Bringing Home the Groceries in Aqaba

Updated: Mar 20

Hey, everyone. This is Al, guest-writing the blog this week to give Anita a break.

Downtown Aqaba, Jordan, presented us with quite a different kind of shopping experience from the ones we have in American cities. It has more of a small-town feel. Rather than having multiple big box stores to choose from, most were "Papa-style" shops. In the U.S., I would say "Mom and Pop" stores, but that is not the case in Jordan. In Arab cultures, almost everything is run and done by men. In our visit, we didn’t see a woman proprietor. Women work as checkers, but almost every other job is done by men. However, more women are visible in the commercial scene than in past eras.

There is the occasional large department store, but for the most part, the shops are small and more specialized.

Where the market will support it, there is a large department store. In the short video that complements this blog, you will see the largest grocery/department store in Aqaba. It’s called “Carrefour Market.” The city has two of them. The one you’ll see is the larger and is housed in Al Rhama Mall pictured here.

In almost all structures in Jordan, the upper part of buildings is unfinished. In the one pictured below, the top three floors are incomplete. There is a good reason. Taxes are assessed only when the building is completed. Often, the exposed rebar serves as an iron crown until…

In Arabic, “souk” is the word for market. It’s an area that may encompass several city blocks or a small group of stores in a neighborhood. It includes a combination of indoor and open-air businesses with a great variety of products. Wherever you are in Aqaba, you’re not far from a souk.

At the Carrefour Market, as well as outdoor markets, there is an abundance of fresh meats, including full carcasses hung in glass-doored coolers, butcher-cuts in refrigerated cases, and a variety of prepackaged sausages, cold cuts, cheese, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Oh yes, souvenirs as well.

Eggs are displayed unwashed on shelves or pallets. This condition allows them to be kept unrefrigerated without spoilage for longer shelf life. When you take them home, store them on a shelf and save the refrigerator space for something else.

As spoiled Americans, Anita and I prefer our eggs squeaky clean. When I was a kid on the farm, I washed eggs. When we move, I’ll do it again. Anita doesn't like touching poop.

If variety is the spice of life, you’ll love the bodacious spice market. Historically, Aqaba was on a popular spice route. Today, these delights will overwhelm your senses and empty your purse, but the experience will be worth it.

Carrefour has a large section dedicated to electrical and manual kitchen appliances and accessories for every room in the house.

Our host told us when he first arrived in Aqaba, the prevailing thought was, 'American appliances might not last very long because of the difference in the electrical system in Jordan.' But after years of use, they discovered almost all lasted much longer than expected. With that experience, he recommended whatever electrical device you have, bring it. You may be able to get more use out of it than you think. Even if it goes bad sooner than later, you will get some good from it.

He also mentioned one exception: clocks. If yours is a plug-in, it won't keep accurate time because of the electrical power difference. Not to worry, Carrefour has a large display of time-keepers. The alternative is battery operated clocks.

Any electrical device brought from the U.S. will have to be plugged into a converter that changes the voltage from 110 volts to 240 volts and the cycles from 60 to 50. This means you will likely need more than one. The number of converters you will need depends on how many appliances you have.

If you don't know what an electrical converter or regulator is, start your education with this short video about what they do.

If you want to destroy a 110v device, plug it directly into a 220v socket. When you do, this is what happens: You’ll hear a tsst sound and maybe smell something electrical. That's what happened when I plugged my beard clipper into a wall outlet that didn’t first pass through a converter. I hate it when the test comes before the lesson. Now, its new home is a land-fill somewhere in Aqaba.

There are some product brands you are familiar with, like Heinz, Tabasco, L’oreal, Pert, Fructis, and many others. Of course, there are also many new ones for the adventurous.

Where’s the Miracle Whip? Carrefore didn’t have it!

Al, don’t let your exasperation show, there is another store a few blocks away that specializes in American products. When you return to Aqaba, see if they carry it. If not, place a special order. Surely they’ll be willing to help. Remember that Jordanian hospitality.

Most products are labeled in English and Arabic, making shopping easy.

Hospitality is everywhere. “Welcome, welcome” is on nearly everyone’s lips. If the saying from the Bible is true: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” there are a lot of friendly hearts in Aqaba.

In a country where dogs and cats are considered unclean rather than pets, you do see a small section of Friskies and Kibbles 'n Bits for them in the grocery store, so they are making progress in this area.

Whether you like tea or not, many of the shop owners will offer it while you shop. We didn’t see a single sign saying, “NO FOOD OR DRINK.”

Mixed in among the shops in the souk are small restaurants serving a variety of quick foods including one of our favorites, falafel. It consists of ground chickpeas and spices rolled like a big Italian meatball or flattened into a breakfast sausage-sized patty, deep-fried and served inside freshly baked pita bread with chopped lettuce, tomato, and cucumber, and yogurt/tahini dressing. Mm-mmm makes my mouth water to talk about it.

Here is a website where we bought our latest, but a search for falafel will get you others as well.

One of our favorite food vloggers, Mark Wiens, made this video in Jordan. The first food he tries is falafel but also goes to several restaurants. He makes you taste what he tastes by his descriptions and facial expressions.

While you’re out shopping, you are likely to find a place that serves fresh-squeezed fruit blends with apples, bananas, pineapples, oranges, and some exotic ones too. You can watch the attendant work his magic and hand you the delicious, refreshing drink to go with the falafel. “Here’s a sidewalk table, let’s take a seat.” If you have been shopping a while, you’ll need the break to get re-energized to continue “just a few more blocks.”

Husbands, don’t miss out on this experience. You’ll be glad to be of service to your wife because she will need you to carry the great bargains she finds. It’s a great feeling to be useful.

The crowd is friendly. No concerns here. You’ll be glad you came.

We visited Aqaba in late November and early December. Even during the day, there was no need for us to wear more than a light jacket, and sometimes even that had to come off.

In the summer, most of the shopping is done after sundown because the daytime heat keeps most people indoors where it’s cool. This preferred evening-time shopping routine fills the streets and city sidewalks with the energy of all ages.

We were not very skilled in the cultural art of negotiating in the marketplace. Maybe we spent a little more than we should have, but it’s okay. That is a skill we’ll develop when we return. There’s probably an online class we can take.

Who can say what an item is worth? An agreement between buyer and seller determines its value. Although bargaining is a big part of the culture, some places have fixed rates.

When making a purchase by either method, make it a game.

  • Shopping should be a delightful social activity, and haggling while sharing a cup of hot tea is a courtesy you should never refuse.

  • Don’t be arrogant by accepting the first price mentioned. Slow down, ya move too fast. Ya gotta make the mornin’ last.

  • Make your first offer below the price you wish to pay. In this way, you give yourself some wiggle-room. Eventually, you’ll come to terms.

  • Don’t make your offer too low, or your new friend may be insulted.

  • Never lose your temper. If negotiations aren’t going to plan, simply smile and say ma’a salaama (goodbye). You’ll be surprised how often these words bring the price down. Anita went back to a vender two hours after walking away from an item, and he met her at the door with a better price.

Shopping in Jordan can be a fun experience. Like anywhere else in the world, you’ll find some good bargains and some not-so-good but all-in-all, like us, you’ll be glad you went shopping.

You may have already seen my video about the Carrefour market. It was posted several weeks ago. If you haven’t, take a look. It will help you get the feel of our shopping experience in Aqaba. Notice the quality of the products and the appealing way they’re presented.

Serendipitously, our friends, the Ryan family (who live in Aqaba) released their blog recently about grocery shopping. They are much more knowledgeable than we. Visit their website here and here to get more information. We plan to use their tips after we get there.

While you are there, go back another week to read about Gracey's ebook. We bought and read it. What an inspirational story about how God called their family to Jordan. It is only $10 and will be a blessing to you.

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