One thing about life as an expat in the Philippines is that one can often find oneself craving things from abroad. Things that can be extremely difficult to come by unless you’re one of the city dwellers in places like Manila, Cebu and Angeles.
For those of us who have gone a little “deeper in” to the republic, cravings for a taste of the old country often go unsatisfied. However, as long as you’ve got an Internet connection and LBC can find your house there are some options open to you.
Over the course of the last few years I have managed to accumulate a list of suppliers that I use regularly to get various things delivered to my home in the North Luzon provinces.
I have a fridge stocked with everything from tonic water to imported cider and a pantry jam-packed with canned goods, soups, sauces and anything else you could imagine. When you open the chest freezer you’ll find prime beef, Australian lamb and English sausages.
When it comes time to seek out condiments for a home-made hot dog (we bake our own bread so that makes life very easy when it comes to buns) I have everything from Colman’s Mustard to Dijon to American Mustard and even imported relish.
If I’m craving a curry and need Garam Masala, Cumin or any spice you can imagine I have them all on hand (if I’m in a hurry I’ll just grab a can of Sainsbury’s Beef Madras out of the kitchen cupboard). My nearest supermarket is a two-hour drive away, my nearest SM Mall even farther than that.
I also have a bookshelf well stocked with second-hand English-language library books (I wouldn’t even know where the nearest physical shop would be for those). A kitchen fully loaded with appliances and, to be honest, by and large I’m far better provisioned and set up here than I ever was in the West. Best of all, none of this really cost me all that much.
On top of all this – everything comes right to my door.
It took some doing, but if you’re new to the Philippines then here it is. Dave’s guide to not having to survive on fish and rice while you’re having more fun in the Philippines…
Before we get to the yummy stuff I thought I’d start with keeping your brain fed. While there is always the Internet (if there wasn’t it’s highly likely you would not be reading this right now) there is something about laying around in a hammock with a book.
This is one thing that I missed out on for a good two years. Each time someone would visit from overseas or larger cities I’d ask them to bring some paperbacks. I managed to build up a small library that way but not being able to choose my own stuff was pretty frustrating.
Enter Blink. About six months ago I found a website called blink.com.ph. It showed a lot of promise, had a minimum spend of P1,000 ($20) for free shipping and accepts PayPal, bank deposits at BDO or BPI, cash payments at 7/11 and GCash. So in I leapt. The books arrived two days later (Blink is without fail the fastest shipper in this list).
What were the books like? They were all hardbacks. Cost me just 100-200 pesos each and were in fantastic condition. The topic ranges are broad and while I can’t necessarily say there’s something for everyone, the range is pretty solid and I’m sure that most expats will find some suitable reading material on the site.
Since finding Blink I’ve ordered monthly and, finally, have a bookshelf (which I had delivered by another online store further down this list) that has something on it that I chose and that I haven’t already read 20 times!
When it comes to appliances, unless you’re near an SM or a Magic Appliance centre they can be tough to come by, overpriced and the range of what is available can be a little dismal.
Enter Lazada. Lazada supports most of the same payment methods as Blink but also has a Cash on Delivery option should none of those suit you. A lot of people feel that Lazada can be overpriced, that is true of some things, but not of all. As we reported last year it’s also recently been acquired by Jack Ma’s Alibaba group.
As an example, I’ve got a fantastic Korean blender, food processor, juicer, coffee grinder combo that was end of line and I ordered on Lazada for less than P2,000. Similar units in Western countries easily go for north of $100. My office furniture, bookshelves, garden hoses, some of the bathroom and kitchen fittings in the house and my hair trimmer also all came in from Lazada, as does a lot of my IT equipment. I also got my basil and coriander seeds (which are doing extremely well in the side garden as I write this) on this site.
All of this stuff would have been difficult (if not impossible) for me to source without a significant journey. As is the case with most of us in the provinces the roads are bad and it’s a long, long way to my nearest mall.
Lazada also has a pretty comprehensive range of non-perishable grocery items. It is Lazada that is responsible for the contents of my wine rack, for instance. So this is also the first of my tips about sites that you can get food and beverage items on.
Their range of alcoholic drinks covers everything from Moet champagne to cases of cheap red wine. They also have a range of imported spirits, things like Jack Daniels, Chivas Regal, Jose Cuervo and Johnnie Walker. Personally it’s rare for me to drink imported spirits or beers as I don’t have any great dislike for Tanduay and Coke, the ubiquitous San Miguel Pale Pilsen suits me when it comes to beer. I do, however, have a pretty large soft-spot for a decent glass of fermented grape juice!
For those who do like imported beer their beer section includes everything from Tisngtao to Hoegaarden to Paulaner as well as a couple of local craft breweries which I have tried and rather like. Of course, man can’t live on non perishables and wine alone.
What about meat? Whenever I’m in Angeles (which is only really when I have to drive down to pick someone up at the airport) I’ll lob in to Brettos or Homebase and stock up on some lamb and beef. Those trips are few and far between though. For everyday eats, there’s Prime Choice. Unfortunately it doesn’t deliver everywhere in the country. But if you’re on one of the major islands then you’re probably covered. A buddy of mine who lives in the wops on Mindoro (his nearest ‘major’ city is Puerto Galera, and even that is a decent schlep) is the only potential customer I know who has been out of luck with these guys.
They need a minimum order for delivery of P5,000 so what I recommend is ordering once every few months and keeping it in your freezer. What can you get from Prime Choice? What can’t you get!
Aussie beef, lamb and smallgoods. American prime beef. Norweigan Salmon filets (fresh and smoked). My understanding is that these guys supply a lot of hotels and resorts and their stuff is top notch. You can order on their website or on Facebook.
If you’re someone with a bit of culinary flair but your recipes require more than the salt, pepper and bay leaves that are all that is readily available in many small provincial markets then you’re going to need to spice things up. Every home chef’s dirty little secret in the Philippines (apart from Maria at the bar on the corner) is the Seven Spice Shop.
This home-based business in Quezon City has absolutely everything you’re going to need to properly stock your spice rack (remember, the one you ordered on Lazada). Craving a jambalaya? Home made chili? How about whipping up a curry?
You’ll find everything from Garam Masala to Juniper Berries, Coriander and Cinnamon Sticks. Even more exotic items like Saffron can be ordered from these guys. They don’t publish prices as they import all their stuff and exchange rate fluctuations can have an impact on pricing. Orders are by the gram, with a ten gram minimum. You can either phone them or message them on Facebook and you can pay direct into BDO or use PayPal.
If you’re looking for canned goods, imported English beers and ciders or hemorrhoid cream (yes, you read that right) then Mike has you covered! Based in Cebu Mike’s Imported English Goods has all sorts of things that you rarely see in the Philippines, let alone the provinces.
Do you like to start your day with a bowl of Alpen or Weetabix? How about getting a sweat on with some hot English mustard?
Mike’s is a family business and he ships either by LBC or surface Philippines wide. He takes payments by bank deposit and PayPal.
As if all that wasn’t enough to get you excited, there’s one more business that I think worthy of a mention in this article. MarketPlace by PawnHero is the shop side of the online Pawn Shop PawnHero. It was here that I got my DSLR Camera (for a quarter of the price of a new one). When you’re done with whatever impulse buy bargain you’ve picked up you can even use their other site to pawn it right back to them by getting a free appraisal on pawnhero.ph.
On MarketPlace you’ll find everything from designer clothes and handbags to all manner of gadgets, jewelry and watches. They offer cash on delivery and same day shipping and will ship nationwide.
So there it is, Dave’s cheat sheet for surviving the Philippines provinces in style. One more quick tip, if you’re sick and tired of the local Sari Sari store running out of load for your phone then be sure to bank with BDO. To the best of my knowledge their online banking service is the only one in the country where you can instantly top up any phone in the country fee-free.
Did we miss a gem of a site that you think should be included in this list? Let us know in the comments.