The Durban Food Shopping Experience

Beyond boat chores or passage and travel planning, there are the practical aspects of living aboard like eating, for instance, which necessitate regular grocery shopping. Without a car, food shopping is always a challenge. Sometimes we call it foraging. We've talked about it before, but having just returned this morning from a Durban food shopping experience, I thought it was worth sharing with you. First of all, we've learned from experience here that shopping early is better for three reasons: 1) there's the possibility that there will actually be product on the shelves and even meat in the cold cases; 2) the lines won't be as long; and 3) it won't be as hot and humid. Early usually means before 0800 … the grocery stores all open at 0700. There are three stores within our comfortable walking range: Shoprite, Woolworths (Woolys) and Game.


Shoprite is the largest of the three and has slightly lower prices, but it's always chock-a-block crowded beyond belief and the quality of its meat and produce is sometimes not the best. Woolys is small, but the quality is usually good and they most always have fresh chicken (except when they don't). Game is a two-story store with electronics on the top floor and a large supply of limited shelf products, produce, meats and plastic housewares-type articles. Of course, it was necessary to shop and explore all three to come to this conclusion.

We left this morning just after 0800, a little later than planned, and it was already 83F/28C with enough humidity to have us sweating immediately as we began walking down the dock. All three grocery stores are within a  two-block radius of each other, about ½ mile. Since we prefer Wooly's, we headed there. Wooly's is interesting in that the first time we stopped there, we passed by thinking it was only a  clothing store. You have to know it has a grocery section to wend your way through all the clothing to get to the back of the store. Just beyond the men's undershorts, you can spot the grocery check-out.

beyond the underwear is the food

We had our to-buy list with us. In addition to the necessities like fresh chicken, wine, water and biscuits (crackers), we had a few exotics on the list, too ... sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, dried coconut, (all for making homemade granola), canned/tinned mushrooms, artichoke hearts and cream cheese. Had I wanted any variety of curry powder or Mrs. Balls chutney or even lamb rub, it would have been an easy task. I found one small cup of low-fat cream cheese, but none of the other items were available, nor was there any shelf space for them.

what they did have

Sometimes, part of the problem is that I know what I want, but I don't know what it's called. It's one thing when I don't know the Spanish word for something, but when I'm in an English-speaking country and I can't figure it out, it's a bit odd, don't you think? For instance, zucchini squash in the USA is called courgettes in Australia and I found out today, it's called marrow here in South Africa. Eggplant, known as aubergine in Australia (and France), is called brinjal. Go figure. Even though I now knew what they were called, I didn't need them. We headed to the check-out line which was long, but moved fairly quickly.

marrows and brinjals

With less than half the items on my list purchased, we headed across the street and down a block to Shoprite. You take your life in your hands crossing the streets here. Pedestrians don't seem to have any right of way at all. Even when the “green man” flashes and tells you it's okay to cross, there's a pretty good chance a mini-bus or turning traffic will cut you off. Since we already had three bags and a full backpack from Wooly's (yes, we did find some things to buy), David waited at the entrance while I popped into Shoprite to find some of the missing items. Though this store has lots more products on offer, none of them came close to what was on the list. You wouldn't think canned mushrooms would be so hard to find, would you? I did find a ream of printer paper on an end-cap of the canned veggie aisle though, so the trip wasn't a total waste.

durban traffic

Off we trudged back to the boat, arms aching by the time we reached the dock. A dive bag full of clean laundry was waiting for us to add to the burden. David shouldered it along with his backpack and two bags. I grabbed the other two bags and we headed back to the boat. All told … 2-1/2 hours lost from our day, but we'll eat tonight.

beast of burden

Some important points about grocery shopping we've learned:

  • If you don't have transportation, never buy more than you can comfortably carry. We use shopping baskets instead of a cart. When the baskets get heavy, we know we've bought enough.
  • When you're toting groceries, the route back to the boat is always longer.
  • If you see something you want, buy it now and in quantity - you may never see it again.