Grocery Shopping – It Sux Balls in the Philippines

Grocery shopping is a chore at the best of times. In the Philippines this takes on a whole new level of inconvenience and frustration. You will run into the same issues no matter where you go. SM, Rustans, Landmark; they all have unpredictable stock levels, wildly inefficient checkout systems, stupidly crowded aisles that make you feel more like cattle than people, staff that will stand there holding up a whole line rather than solve a problem themselves that has come up etc. etc.

These are all problems relating to the stereotype of Filipino’s not being in a rush to do anything, and oblivious to eye watering inefficiency that will make any westerner cringe no matter how patient and tolerant they are.

If you are sensing the hugot in my tone, it is because I generally hate shopping. Some people love it, not me. I will get it over and done with as soon as humanly possible.

A girl I was dating years back once offered to accompany me while I did my groceries. I told her it was a bad idea, and warned her that I will be moving fast and will be prone to mood swings while getting this done. She insisted to come anyway… I lost her many times in the supermarket and the poor girl was almost jogging to keep up. This was probably a little rude of me in hindsight, but she was warned and I did offer to just meet her out the front when I was done.

So for anyone who also hates this necessary task, here are a few tips to minimise the pain:

Outsource!

Easiest way to avoid the mayhem is to just not do it. If you have house help then you can request that the shopping be done for you. This removes the hassle all together. You have to be organised enough to have a list – which I am not – and you also lose the chance to find suitable substitutes when the inevitable out of stock sign goes up on an important item.

Timing is Everything

If you are willing to shop at a time when everyone else is not, then you can at least avoid the hassle of the crowd and get out of there a little quicker. Evenings are always crowded no matter what day it is. Lunch time, afternoons forget it!

Without a doubt the best time to get this laborious task out of the way is Sunday morning. Where are all the locals at this time? Church! For the more unholy folk they may be sleeping off a hangover somewhere. So you get an uninterrupted run down the aisles and also get first crack at all the fresh produce… if you can call it that.

Have a Plan B, C and D

For me Sunday is also a day where I might be in the mood to cook something adventurous. After getting your heart set on something it is always irritating when a crucial ingredient is nowhere to be found. This will happen more often than not so be prepared with a few options for your Sunday afternoon feast.

Getting in to a weekly shopping routine is also difficult for this reason. Stock for a certain brand or product may only come in once a month. On the plus side this forces you to try other things and experiment a little.

Pay Cash

A faulty EPS (EFTPOS for those in Aus) terminal could hold you up for a long time. Delays while they check if you were charges for a failed transaction, or while they drag you to multiple terminals to try your card, or even worse when you see the sign saying “XYZ Bank is down, Cash Only” and you cannot purchase anything at all.

SM supermarkets also will not accept a foreign credit card – I have never been given anything that resembles an explanation for this – so again just a word of warning so you are not caught out.

If you have cash, then you can avoid all of this.

 Where to go

The above will be relevant no matter where you shop. In Makati there are three main options to get your shopping done. Not a lot of difference between each one, but a few comments worth noting below:

Landmark

This is the largest supermarket in the Makati area and you will get the broadest selection. The fresh produce quality is as good as you will get in the city and the prices are also the cheapest you will find.

Because the local market is very responsive to price you will also find this the busiest, and at times crowded to the point of stand still. Many Sari Sari store operators source their goods here and it is common to see someone at a checkout with five trolleys full of groceries.

You can tip one of the baggage guys to carry your things up to the taxi line if you want. Comes in handy if you are buying more than you can carry, but if you are a guy you should man up and carry your own shit.

Rustans

This is targeted more towards the expat crowd. Lots of imported goods from the US, UK and Aus. The price point is higher, and the stock levels also unpredictable. The stores are smaller with many in convenient locations near condo buildings. Great for the quick run to the shops to grab a few necessities.

The extra cost doesn’t really come with extra quality. The fresh product is so so, and the imported goods always seem to be a B grade version of what you would get back home.

SM

I would avoid this place whenever possible. The supermarkets generally smell, they have the poorest quality fresh produce, and have nonsensical queue rules that will result in you being rejected from a cash register if you are in the wrong one – even if the place is near empty and a checkout person is not doing anything.

So that is all for one of my least favourite topics in the world. Good stuff to know when you are new to the city though. With the relative affordability of eating out it can be tempting to fall into a pattern that avoids cooking your own meals. If you are staying for a long time though you are going to end up being one very unhealthy person by doing this.

If you want to eat anything resembling a healthy meal you will have to cook it yourself. So the sooner you can get into a grocery routine the better off you will be.

You can find some great quality meat, seafood, fruits and veggies at the markets scattered around the city. If you want to brave the traffic and crowds at these then you can source better stuff at a cheaper price (probably best to take a Filipino with you to buy on your behalf). If you are a working professional though you simply will not have time in amongst the day to day grind. So happy shopping!

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