As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, Luanda is one of the world’s most expensive cities, while at the same time being one of the worst for shopping. We’ve been living here for just over six weeks now and we’ve never ventured into — or even found for that matter — any shops other than supermarkets. The quality and selection of produce and groceries is poor, and prices can be very high ($10 for a box of cornflakes, $20 for a punnet of strawberries), and there are some things that you can seldom get. Fresh chicken for example is scarce.
You know that song: If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, Love the one you’re with.? A modified version of those lyrics sums up our normal shopping philosophy: If you can’t find the stuff you want, honey, Want what you can find!
We’ve had some interesting meals following this mantra, and our quest for affordable breakfast cereal has led our taste buds on a pretty strange journey too.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s to partially explain the reasons why South Africa is such a popular weekend getaway destination. In Johannesburg, or, to be more precise, the suburb of Sandton, you can stay in 5-star luxury for a couple of nights while enjoying great food and wine, excellent shopping, and top quality produce all at comparatively low prices. People from several African countries will go to Jo’burg for the weekend with empty suitcases and bring them home full of supermarket shopping. South African Airways even gives you extra baggage allowance because this practice is so common. Our economy tickets afforded us 30Kilos per person instead of the more usual 20 Kilos.
So we followed friends’ advice (and borrowed their cooler bags too) and traveled ultra-light to Jo’burg, and there we shopped til we dropped. On the Sunday afternoon Karen explained our combined family mission, and the important roles that we each had to play. Apparently it was her and Abigail’s job to visit the spa and endure two hours of facials, manicures and pedicures, while my job was to take the cooler bags to The Butcher’s Shop in Nelson Mandela Square and fill them up with top quality meat to take home with us. I didn’t argue as the prospect of going out to ‘hunt’ a bagful of meat appealed to the caveman in me, and I enjoy spending money too so it was a double whammy as far as I was concerned.
The butcher man greeted me warmly and asked how could he help me? I held out the larger of my two cooler bags and said, “Fill ‘er up!” He laughed, pretending to be impressed by my wit, although he probably gets several berks like me every day. And so the ordering began:
“I’ll take a rack of those barbecue ribs please. On second thought, make that two racks. Oh and I’ll have two of those lamb shanks, eight of the chops, four sirloin steaks, four rump steaks, and twelve of those long Droewors sausages. Ooh is that a full beef tenderloin? Go on then, chuck that in.”
I then plugged any small gaps in the cooler bag with packets of Biltong, which, if you don’t know, is small pieces of dried, cured meat, sold in packets and eaten from the bag as a snack. Mr. Nice Butcher also threw in a bottle of red wine because I’d been a good customer, which I thought was a nice touch. I spent just under £100 in the shop and what I bought would have easily cost double that in the UK, and probably four times as much in Luanda IF such quality were available, which it isn’t. I didn’t need the second bag in the end, although we did later fill it up with other groceries: tea, cheese, and more biltong mostly.
Back in the hotel room I weighed my suitcase at 28.5 Kg, which was pretty much all food, so I had to pack my clothes into Karen & Abigail’s cases for the journey back. Each meat order was individually vacuum-packed and placed in the cooler bag with a couple of dry freeze blocks, and despite having sat in the suitcase for almost 24 hours from purchase to unpacking it was all still pretty cold when we opened the bag up. As I write it’s all sitting in our chest freezer, for a rainy day.
As soon as we’ve saved up enough we’re going back.