I arrived in Mozambique with three large suitcases full of stuff that I bought in Austria “just in case” I would not be able to find all the basic things I am used to in Beira. Turned out that shopping in a big Mozambican town such as Beira is not only easy and satisfying, it is also fun and omnipresent.
So today, in my mini series “Practical life in Beira”, I will provide some information and tips about what to buy where and how.
On the streets – the First Market and the Second Market
I find it hard to think of goods that I have not yet seen being sold directly on the streets. Clothes, shoes, dairy products, SIM cards, brooms, pillows, furniture, alive chickens and goats – in fact, the streets of Beira are one big market that can be split into two main pillars: We have the aggregated First Market, as in the official market places where farmers from the surrounding areas sell their produce, and outdoor outlets of official shops and – very popular – telecom operators – where you can pick and purchase what you like literally through a car window or from a txoupela. And then there is the Second Market – countless micro-retailers, individual people that invest all their “surplus” in various things, purchase them from wholesalers, manufacturers or other individuals, and re-sell them again to people who prefer to get everything in the twinkling of an eye instead of spending time in searching themselves.
From an outside perspective, it is usually hard to distinguish between representants of the first and the second market – I am not even sure if those are “real terms”, I just stumbled upon them somewhere and found them very appropriate. The whole town just appears as a lively, busy place full of business. And even though someone who is familiar with Meditarrenean, Arab or Asian markets would expect it: Stuff is not overpriced here, neither on the first nor on the second market, and bargaining is not common hence not necessary. You just point at what you like, get the price and then decide on a yes/no-basis.
Lojas – small stores, more or less specialized
Beira has a couple of shopping streets, or rather shopping districts – mainly in Baixa and Chaimite, the central districts close to the harbour. In these streets, you find stores – lojas (Portuguese: shop, store) side by side…usually small, often relatively (but not strictly) specialised – for instance in textiles, plastic goods, electrical equipment…you name it. If you are not exactly sure what you are looking for and where to find it, the Lojas Chineses are always a handy tip, since you can find anything there. They are usually ran by Chinese families, hence the name…however, I have already heard locals use the term for mixed assortment stores that have been in African hands for generations).
Bread, Fruit, Fish
Even though shopping is basically always a pleasant experience in Beira and I am sure everyone will find their own way around pretty soon – avoid what I used to do in the beginning: buying vegetables, fruit and bread at the supermarket. Not only is it irrational to buy “imported” mangos from South Africa in a supermarket that is literally located under mango trees in full fruit – you will never get the colors, the smells, the feeling and the taste of buying fresh.
For bread, find a local padaria. Their assortment is usually very limited – white bread in two, maybe three shapes, and at times some sweet stuff. But the bread – oh, the bread. If you are lucky enough to see people queuing outside the shop, it usually means that a fresh load is about to get out of the oven. Crusty, golden, and so hot that it feels damp in the plastic bag.
Fruit and vegetables – go to the first paragraph. Everywhere. First Market, Second Market, no matter where, just buy as much as you can, because you might never find that Maracuja guy again, or the lady with those melon-sized avocados that have the perfect consistency for days (yes – I am taking about avocados!). Then again, the longer I live here, the more my favourite sales-people find me instead of me looking for them. Today, the Maracuja guy spotted me and explicitely walked over to tell me that he doesn’t have any today, but tomorrow for sure and if he should keep the usual two kilos for me.
Fish and seafood – While I never ate much meat, and consume close to none here, I love everything that comes from the sea. Living at the coast of the Indian Ocean is one aspect that I would integrate in my personal concept of “heaven”. Here, you can buy seafood directly from the fisher boats at the coast, which makes freshness or quality concerns redundant.
And yet, I would be lying if I didn’t admit how happy I am that we also have several big supermarkets here. We have an outlet of the South African Shoprite, and some Mozambican chains, e.g. Melhor Supermercado and Real. Shoprite is a milestone, a reference point in the city’s geography, my trusted dealer for cosmetics, and hideaway at times when I can’t help myself but missing strolling through endless shelves of countless products with a trolley, air condition and background music. Okay – not always the background music. Today, they were shuffling Best of Modern Talking…