|Yup, that's a McArabia.|
Grocery shopping in Riyadh is completely different from shopping at home. I used to walk down the road to my nearby Countdown, find what I wanted and head back.
For a start, no one walks here.
This has probably got something to do with the very long time it takes to get anywhere. It’s also got a lot to do with the driving. Riyadh drivers go whatever speed they like, wherever they like…including footpaths and median strips. You’d have to have a secret death wish to want to walk.
Today we piled into our four-wheel drive and headed off to Panorama Mall.
Panorama is pretty much like any other mall in Riyadh. It’s a high tech glass and chrome structure full of fashion shops, a food court and supermarket. And of course there’s also the standard children’s entertainment area upstairs, right beside the food court. In any other country this space would be full of movie theatres, but in Saudi movies and theatres are banned.
The artist impressions on the Panorama Mall website show people in Western dress and some hand-holding Saudi couples. These are both things you don’t see here. Ever.
Our first stop was the food court to grab something to eat. I’m not a fan of fast food, but I’m rapidly learning that there’s not a lot of choice here. Not tempted by a McDonalds McArabia Burger, I settled instead for some kind of synthetic-looking wrap. As I munched, thinking how much the flavor would be improved by the addition of just a little bacon, roller-coasters rattled overhead and on my left I saw something that reminded me of Euro Disney’s Space Mountain.
My daughters thought it was the most exciting ride ever when we visited Euro Disney several years ago. They laughed at me when I wasn’t brave enough to give it a go. (The Saudi indoor version looked much tamer.)
At midday, every shop in Riyadh lowers shutters and closes for prayer. All aspects of daily life are organized around prayer times. The only reprieve I’ve noticed is for people in cars. Apparently, the Koran gives travellers special prayer dispensation. So the mayhem on the road never stops.
In anticipation of this we headed downstairs to the supermarket and at 11.55 slipped ninja-like under the lowering shutters. Although technically closed, those already inside at midday can carry on shopping while others left on the outside must wait until prayers are over and the shutters go up again.
I grabbed a trolley and saw that prayer mats had gone down over in the fruit and veges section. All the people who’d been working minutes ago were now prostrate in prayer. It would be half an hour before the check-out was manned - meanwhile we were effectively trapped.
I decided to focus on my grocery list.
Finding the lemon jelly I wanted for a cheesecake was easy enough. Not so the cream cheese. There was cream cheese with chives, cream cheese with cracked pepper, and cream cheese with basil pesto. Ordinary plain standard cream cheese seemed an extinct species.
I gave up, concentrated on items that were easier to find and then headed to the check out. Despite the fifteen checkouts, only three were in operation. As usual.
Shopping over, I returned home, planning to do something with my lemon jelly – alas, nothing cheesecake-related.