Shop to Chop — Shopping in CamerooniStockphoto
Yaoundé has a couple of European supermarkets. The most famous ones are Casino (a French brand), Mahima and DOVV. These supermarkets are popular with expats and richer Cameroonians. Some international organisations advise their staff to avoid going to Casino in the weekend when it is very crowded.
The supermarkets are great to buy western products like cheese, salmon, sausages and meat, olive oil, and muesli but also European brands of shampoo. Most often they also offer a large collection of wine and spirits. Many products are imported from Europe which is also why these supermarkets can be rather expensive.
Besides European supermarkets, there are also Cameroonian supermarkets, called “Alimentation”. These shops have more basic things: soap, water, palm oil, powdered milk, and yoghurt. They are usually a bit cheaper than the European supermarkets (even for the same products) and work in the same way; you pick what you want, put it in your basket and pay.
Boulangeries are bakeries. You can buy various types of cakes and (French) bread there. Another option is to buy bread in the street. People sell French bread with various toppings such as eggs (with a lot of mayonnaise), sardines, beans, spaghetti and other toppings. These sandwiches are rather cheap, 300-500 XAF should be fine for bread with a topping of your choice.
There are a few western bakeries where you can find different types of bread, croissants and cakes.
Many women own small shops which are great to have around the corner to buy the basics like cooking oil, maggi cubes, eggs, canned sardines, matches etc. Often you can also find some fresh vegetables like tomatoes or onions.
In supermarkets, alimentations, boulangeries and boutiques, prices are usually fixed and even indicated.
There are various markets all over town. You can bargain prices, but many food products have a fixed price. Some markets, like Mokolo, are very crowded and people literally pull you to their business. But especially the smaller markets around the residential areas are much more relaxed.
A good example is the Nkol Eton Market, between Bastos and Round Point Nlongkak. As an expat you can do your shopping there in relative peace. People will always call out to you and ask you to buy lemons, onions or whatever they sell. But if you smile friendly and say thank you, they will leave you alone.
You can always ask the security guard or your neighbours about the market closest to your house. If you do your shopping a few times at the same market, you will find that you will get your own “preferred vendors”. These people will (most likely) not rip you off as they will lose their customer if they do so.
Fruits and vegetables
Markets are especially good to buy vegetables and fruits. Most often products come straight from the farm so they are fresh. Vegetables and fruits are usually sold in three different “categories”:
- Big products like watermelons, cabbage, pineapple, but also eggplant, green peppers and cucumber are normally sold per piece. The price depends on the size. Sometimes the prices are written on the street.
- Very small products like rice or groundnuts are sold per cup. The prize for a cup is fixed, although you can get them to add a bit to your cup if you are lucky.
- Many products are sold per “pile”. You will see small towers of 4-5 tomatoes, a hand full of potatoes, garlic, chilies, oranges all over. The price obviously depends on the size of the pile.
In the markets, you will find the products of the season. That means you may not find mangoes outside of mango period. However, if you find mangoes you can be sure they are fresh! In supermarkets you may be able to also find out-of-season fruits and vegetables, usually imported. Imported apples, oranges and grapes are also sold in the streets at times. These are relatively expensive, so don’t be surprised to pay 300 XAF for an apple, while you can buy a big pineapple for the same amount.
Plastics and clothes
Another thing you can buy in markets are plastic items (buckets etc.) and clothes. These are bargainable. You may want to check a few shops before starting your bargain at the one who offers you the cheapest option. African fabric should cost around 5,000 XAF for six yards (the standard size), while Vlisco (Dutch Wax) is much more expensive.
Outside real market places, you will still find people selling different products like shoes and even furniture, presenting their products on a mat on the floor. Here, too, you can bargain a lot.
Meat and fish
You can buy meat and (dried) fish in the markets as well. However, most expats prefer to buy these in the supermarkets, where it is kept cool during the day. The company Congelcam runs shops all over the country, mainly selling different types of frozen fish like mackerel, tuna and catfish. Grilled meat (suya) and fish are widely available in the streets.
All over Cameroon you will find the Marché Ambulante: people walking the street trying to sell their products, carrying their shop on their head or in a wheelbarrow. From these people you can buy mainly small things like ground nuts, clothes or shoes. Although sometimes you will be surprised to see what people try to sell this way (home trainers for example).
Prices are highly bargainable, maybe except for products like ground nuts. If you look for something like a USB stick, it can make sense to check in real shops with fixed prices or online to get an indication. You can then bargain with the sellers in the street.
- Officially, vendors are no longer allowed to give you a plastic bag to carry your vegetables. Often you will still get one, but take a shopping bag along to be safe (and to protect the environment! The main reason why the plastic bags are no longer allowed is that they pollute the streets too much).
- Most vendors don’t have change. So if you go to the market it is recommended to carry your coins.
- If you ask for prices in the market, you should know that two-two-hundred means that every piece costs two-hundred francs, not that two are two-hundred francs.
- Wearing sunglasses can be useful for hassle free shopping. If you wear sunglasses you can secretly inspect the products without the vendors seeing you are showing serious interest in it.
Cameroon has one big online shop: jumia.cm. This website is very useful to get indications of prices if you want to buy things. However, the website is also functioning very well, so you can also buy your products (electronics, clothes) from there. You can get the product delivered to the post office and pick it up from there. This is also where you pay, so you will not spend money on products which will most likely never arrive. They even offer home delivery in some cities.
Esly van Dam is Dutch, living in Cameroon since 2014. She lived in a small town before moving to the capital and enjoys sharing her local experiences with others. Esly is an InterNations Ambassador in Yaoundé.
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