For most people, a regular routine in their lives is the weekly/monthly shop. As someone who does not set foot in the kitchen, however, shopping for groceries hasn’t really been an issue for me. I am lucky to be fed at school twice a day and even luckier to have a number of nice restaurants around me, leaving no need for me to go about hunting for the best leg of lamb, chicken fillets or horse steak.
My lack of talents in the kitchen are now being put to the test due to the extreme conditions outside, removing any desire to wander round looking for a cafe or restaurant! I did feel ridiculous the other day dressed in five layers of clothes, two scarves plus the ‘beaver’ and ‘mink’. I caught a glimpse of my reflection the restaurant doors and realised I looked more like a tramp as opposed to a customer.
I was, surprisingly, allowed into the establishment but then had to spend the next 10 minutes disrobing at the cloakroom before being shown to my seat. I decided it was about time I started making my own meals in the evenings and at weekends so I would have to finally go the supermarket to get provisions. I decided to try the main supermarket on the corner of my street first as it meant less time outside.
As in Kuwait, though each block of flats has a small local shop (‘magazine’ in Russian / ‘duken’ in Kazakh) which sells pretty much everything you could need – though often just one variety; unless of course it is cigarettes or beer, then there are hundreds of types on offer. They are often 24 hours (after 11 pm you have to speak through a little window to get your goods) so do serve a purpose. Every street, in towns and cities in Kazakhstan, along with the local store, has at least one beauty salon, pawn brokers, cobblers (which provide work for hearing and speech impaired people) and beer shop (a rather original shop selling beer from the pump at £2 for a litre and a half).
So I wrapped myself up and headed off to the supermarket ‘Astana’. By the time I had made the five-minute walk to the shop, my hair had frozen and the fur around my head had turned white. Once my eyes had de-misted, I realised I had found a gem. The shop was a European style shop with two levels. The top was a basic supermarket but downstairs was a non-cook’s dream. They sold freshly prepared dishes! All kinds of salads, meat (Kazakh’s love meat) and vegetable dishes – all I would have to do was re-heat them!
I really enjoy Russian salads – there is no lettuce involved and the base ingredient for most is beetroot. This is mixed with numerous vegetables and olive oil or mayonnaise! There was then the desert section with huge, colourful gateaux’s and highly decorated cakes – though luckily I know they often look better than they taste! Having spent a good part of my weekly budget, I was even happier to discover that my new favourite shop was open 24 hours a day!