Shopping in Astana
So I get a lot of emails from people planning to move here, or doing weird things like doing a role playing game, who want very specific information on living here. As a PSA, I try to tackle the most frequent questions here every now and again. The topic today is doing the shopping and I thought I’d outline what I buy where and why.
Personally, I do most of my shopping at Vester, which is located in the Keruen shopping complex on the Left Bank, near Bayterek. I think it’s the best compromise of price, availability of products and quality. I prefer to do most of my shopping in supermarkets where I can pick things out myself and also where I can buy as many things in one place as possible. Vester has excellent produce for a supermarket and good meat. The only thing I don’t like is that it doesn’t target for foreigners or gourmands. So if you want more exotic things, you have to go somewhere else. The produce section is pretty much apples, oranges, bananas, potatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, lemons and scallions. Sometimes you’ll see lettuce or pears or limes or grapes or kiwis. I can’t get much in the way of spices or sauces there either.
Ramstor is quite expensive so I don’t do a lot of shopping there. I mainly go there when I want American foods. Ramstor does target foreigners so they have microwave popcorn, mac and cheese, Worcestershire sauce, salsa, fish sauce, tortillas, and so on. All of it is way over priced (mac and cheese is $2 a box now!) because only crazy Americans like me buy it. And a lot of it runs out and then you have to wait a month before you can get more. I recommend going to Ramstor once a month and stocking up on whatever it is you miss from home.
Silk Way City which just opened in Sara-Arka shopping mall on Sara-Arka Street, behind Triumph Astana is somewhere between Ramstor and Vester. The basics are reasonably priced. American foods are expensive–but I did just pick up Shop Rite brand generic Cheerios and Shredded Wheat. Meat is insanely expensive (about 1.5 times higher than elsewhere). They tend to have a wider variety of produce and also more non-food items like toys and pots and pans than either Vester or Ramstor. I’m starting to go there more often and between them and Ramstor I think you can get anything you might miss from home–though you will have to pay for it.
There is a supermarket, Astana, located near the old square, next to Congress Hall and the city administration. As a supermarket, it’s not bad but nothing special–and the parking is awful in that part of town so if you aren’t in the area already it’s not worth a trip. However downstairs, with a separate entrance, is an excellent culinaire/delicatessen where you can get all sorts of salads and meat pies and pre-marinated meat and chicken wings and fish. Great place for a take-away lunch or a good dinner that just needs to be popped into the oven.
Finally, one thing any visitor to Kazakhstan will note is that there are little mom-and-pop convenience stores everywhere. We must have 5 within 5 minutes of our house. The quality and variety of these stores vary drastically, but they tend to be good places to go if you need one thing or you forgot to get something at the supermarket. Great for milk, bread, cigarettes, beer, juice. Or if you’re walking down the street and want a coke and a packet of potato chips. Some of them do have produce or even meat pies, cakes or other prepared food as well. The visitor should be forewarned that in most of these stores, almost everything is behind the counter so you will have to ask the cashier or if you don’t speak the language, you will have to point and hope they can follow you. That can be a lot of fun by the way. It’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get!
Finally a couple of notes on shopping in general here:
- Don’t be surprised if stores run out of things or if things aren’t available all the time. Stores run out faster and restock slower than in the US in general.
- Don’t expect staff to run back to see if they have more in the warehouse. They might, if they feel nice, but I have had many a staff person say, “If it isn’t on the shelf, we don’t have it.” But smiling and looking slightly lost does sometimes help. Muttering under your breath, “In the US, they can get it for us,” has also been known to motivate people.
- Check the expiration dates. Monitoring of the health codes isn’t perfect.