23 April 2014

Kinshasa FAQs: Grocery Shopping

There is an art to grocery shopping in Kinshasa. It is learned through trial and tribulation and accidentally paying $20 for a melon. Most grocery runs are actually marathons because it is nearly impossible to go to one store and get everything you need - on a budget. Our families dispatch the most willing shoppers, the men of the house. Mostly because Jill and I can go longer than them without eating. On a good day, a trip takes 3-4 hours and only leaves us several hundred dollars poorer.

Groceries in Kinshasa are expensive. There's no way around it. We've learned to deny ourselves many items, and celebrate in the adrenaline rush of a $5 box of expired cereal. But be careful with produce and check your receipts. Everyone has fallen victim to this scenario at one point or another:

Mandarins: $23

Mandarins: $3 (neighboring store)

Here's a rundown of our favorite stores. Of course there are many, many others. A comprehensive shopping trip will take me (read: Adam) to at least 4 of the following places:

City Market: Avenue de L'Equateur

Pros: City Market is a possible one-stop grocery store. Most everything you need can be found here. Pets, groceries, sporting equipment, school supplies, and hookahs galore! Tip: Head for the promotion section first. Our favorite finds there have been Craisins, pickled peppers and Fruit Roll-ups. So good.

Cons: Most items are imported and thus prohibitively expensive. Sometimes crazy expensive. Therefore, City Market is more of a one-stop shop for the single guy UN worker. Not so much for the teacher's family.

A word about pricing in grocery stores. Most of the time they're found on charts scattered throughout the store. Each item has a number and letter code. Then you have the task of matching the code with the price on the nearest chart. Like this...

Example: This Turbo-Jet Steam Iron is E08. According to the chart, E08 costs 19,521 FC. Simple as that. There are many theories as to why this ridiculous system exists. Feel free to weigh in below.

Back to the rundown.

GG Mart: Avenue Tombalbaye

Pros: This Indian-owned grocery store is relatively new on the scene, but if I had to pick a one-stop place, GG's my choice. Their prices are good on just about everything and they have a large selection. Tip: If you have a TASOK ID, you get a discount!

Cons: There are several enticing promotion tables, but steer clear. We've ended up with too many bug-filled boxes of cereal and pasta. And moldy veggie burgers.

Fooled again by that promotion table!

Hasson et Frère: Avenue des Aviateurs, across from the U.S. Embassy

Pros: Another one-stop option. Hasson et Frère's website (!) claims they're the largest department store in Central Africa. I might add quotes around "largest" and "department store." But they do have lots of things at Kinshasa-reasonable prices. Including cheap liquor and mini shopping carts for the kids. What more can you ask for? Plus the only grocery store bathroom (it's upstairs...for 200FC).

Cons: You have to pay for produce, meat and cheese at a separate cash register at the back of the store. They won't tell you this until you're at the front checking out the rest of your items. Closed on Saturdays. Constantly rearranging. What's the deal, Hasson?

Kin Marche: Avenue Mpolo Maurice, across from Kin Mart

Pros: I quite like Kin Marche. It's dumpy, the AC is rarely working, and it's located across from the higher priced Kin Mart, so I feel like they've gotta have good deals. We get juice, canned foods and flat bread here. As long as we've lived in Kin, an extremely attractive security guard with a million dollar smile has worked outside. Hypnotized by this smile, Adam buys him a Snickers every time we're there. Over six years, that's a lot of Snickers. Totally worth that smile.

Cons: Not really your best option for one-stop shopping. Parking can be impossible. But this is when the Snickers relationship comes in handy.

Extra Plus: Avenue de L'Equateur, on the opposite side of 30 Juin from City Market

Pros: Extra Plus is a good size, never crowded grocery store. It's Portuguese-owned, so there's quite a selection of nice European sundries. Oh and their rolls are incredible. This is our stop for meat, cheese, bread, and milk. We spend a good fraction of our salary on our girls' milk drinking habits, so we get our milk here. By the flat. They also have a nice local and imported produce section. Tip: They'll give you a discount (remise) on your total of $50 or more. But you might have to remind them. Oh! And my favorite feature of Extra Plus - they blast Celine Dion.

Cons: Expensive cleaning supplies, paper products, canned foods and pretty much everything else I didn't mention above. Sometimes they give you your change in candy. Good for the kids, weird for the adults. Also, they blast Celine Dion.

SIECO (aka the Portuguese Store):  Avenue Lokonga

Pros: Small, but Kinshasa-great prices on most everything. When we first moved to Kin, SIECO was the only store with prices posted in USD and they didn't use the chart system. Alas, I think they got in trouble with the government for making the shopping experience too easy, so they had to switch to scavenger hunt style pricing.

Cons: Located at the end of 30 Juin in a hard-to-find corner of the city. (Take the right at the end of the boulevard and then the first left. Go until the road ends. Voila, SIECO.) Closed on Sundays.

Iyafu (aka the Indian Store): Avenue de Marche, around the corner from the original N'ice Cream

Pros: Bulk dry goods. Raisins, dry coconut, spices and tons of dry legumes. Also, Gripe Water! Rumor has it a Dr. Pepper or two have been spotted there.

Cons: Small selection of other items.  

Shoprite: Avenue de l'OUA

Our initial excitement for Shoprite has waned.

Pros: When Shoprite first opened, we got a little excited (see photo from our original post about its opening above). It was the first chain grocery store and it was kind of a life-changer. But like many grocery stores in Kinshasa, it opened with excellent prices, then joined everyone else in the trend of high prices for some items, low prices for others.

Cons: Watch out for their "promotions." Take note of the price for these items as they ring up at the cash register; sometimes you don't get the posted promotion price. I'm told by my African auditor friends this is a common scheme in stores like this.

Tip: Put your promo items through the checkout first. Then you can catch any "errors" before they've totaled your bill.

All in all, grocery shopping in Kinshasa is getting cheaper and easier. I think. Or I might have lost perspective. Kinshasa shoppers, what do you think? And are there stores I've left out that you like? How about Regal, Peloustore, Kin Mart, Netty's, etc...

And if you're moving to Kinshasa and you like to hyper-analyze photos (like me), you might want to see what you can get at grocery stores. Here are a few images from various places.

Baby gear.

A variety of appliances. 

Cheese counter.

Goma Cheese. (About $11 a wheel these days.)


Cereal, for that special occasion.

Baking equipment.

Laundry detergent.

Charts. And more charts.

Lastly, let us pause to reflect on $25 strawberries. They're going like hot cakes.

Previous Kinshasa FAQs: The Airport.


  1. I love posts like these. Such an amazing window into a place. I don't think I could deal with all those charts, or $25 strawberries!

  2. Reminds of shopping in Malawi, except with a larger selection of stores. Every shopping trip took hours, you went to basically every store in town and still came home without half the items on your list and it was terribly expensive.

  3. I only go to these stores when I'm so desperately craving for a "home-product" (it's mostly from Colruyt) that I'm ready to spend the money. For everyday shopping you just go to the street market (like e.g. at UPN) and eat chikwangue, mango, banana, kamundele, pain victoire or what have you and rarely surpass 500 frc. But no strawberries, that's like caviar in Kinshasa. Another example is the so popular "nice cream" ice cream salon. It's so crowded you have to fight to have a seat, while in the same street you have a CFC (chicken restaurant from City market) with lots of space, more flavors and less than half the price.

  4. Update: A reader mentioned S&K as a good grocery option. We've never been there, but definitely worth a visit.

    1. One opened in IPN and it's always full. I went there once and prices seemed better price than most supermarket. I heard Pelou in Delvaux has lost a lot customers.

    2. One opened in IPN and it's always full. I went there once and prices seemed better price than most supermarket. I heard Pelou in Delvaux has lost a lot customers.

  5. I loved going to Kin Mart - I liked the clean looking meat selection. City Market always smells so bad to me and I get a little sick looking at their meat counters. You could always find chicken breast at Kin Mart - skinless/boneless. And I loved buying the labneh (sour cream substitute) and other lebanese yogurts in the big tubs. Parking is tough for sure.

  6. This is insanity!! Thanks for sharing even the seemingly mundane things. :) It's interesting for those of us who have never lived in Africa (not that I mean to lump all of Africa together, but you know what I mean...)!

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  10. I'm congolese but have not been living in Congo Kinshasa since 1996 and loads have changed since i almost feel like a foreigner when i visit. I am loving this. Great tips.

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