I had already experienced this in June, but Kinshasa is a surprisingly expensive city.
I guess the main reason is the small local production; so many products are being imported primarily from France or Belgium.
For some items however, there is a drastic difference between supermarket vs. street vendor/market: CDF 6,500 (around US$12.50) per kilo tomatoes in the supermarkets vs. CDF 1,200 (around US$2) per kilo on the street. Bread is also around 5 times more expensive at the supermarket than on the street. A whole case of Primus, the local beer, i.e., 12 bottles (0.7l), you will get for around CDF7000 (around US$15) at a local ‘depot de boisson’ (I first understood we would visit a fish shop when my colleague told me we would visit a client, a ‘depot de b/poisson’), and for the 250ml tetra pack of juice at the supermarket, you will pay around US$1.50.
But the difficult thing at supermarkets is first to actually FIND the prices…. There are no real price tags on the items for sale, just numbers… e.g., you see that the yoghurt has a label ‘B33’…you find the actual price on a large excel print out somewhere next to the fridge showing you that ‘B33’ costs CDF1,800 (around $3). This lets you think ‘ah,pas mal’..that’s actually not so expensive…but then you pick up the yoghurt and it was not the price for all four 125g-cups…but just for one….ok, well then…no yoghurt…All dairy products are very expensive, since I do not think there are cows in the Congo… I have caught myself hallucinating about a bowl of German “Quark” (like the French fromage blanc, thick yoghurt). Another very expensive product is laundry detergent. The large box of Henkel’s PERSIL will let you leave around US$40 at the cashier.
On the street you can almost only pay with Congolese Franc, the supermarket also happily takes US dollars. However, once at the cashier you will realize the ‘secret’: If your dollar bills have only the slightest cut, no shop or restaurant will take them. Even if it is a hundred dollar bill… with a little cut, it is worth nothing. Weird, since most of the Congolese Francs notes almost turn to powder when you only look at them, but these are accepted anywhere. In many of the supermarkets however you can already pay with your VISA card. However, this will mean that you will have to leave the cashier with your groceries, as well as the queue of people behind you, step to a small counter, conduct the card transaction and come back to the cashier with your receipt.
Conclusion: you should not shop at supermarkets….yes, but there are only a few street vendors and the large markets are all a little outside the center and require you to have a car….which you can buy for around US$ 8,000 if you are ok with a used Jeep. To take a taxi you will pay around CDF 500 (around US$1) per person for a trip of around 5-7minutes during the day. It becomes a little more expensive at night. These are no real taxis, but private individuals driving around Kinshasa.
At work, for lunch we often head (or better “headed”!) out to restaurants around the corner serving everything from salads, hamburgers, to fish and steak for at least USD12 to USD18. I decided that this might be a little ‘hors du budget’ for the daily lunch and started to make my own sandwiches in the kitchen… This however, turns me into a local attraction since baguette which is almost eaten all day long…is NOT eaten for lunch…and putting tomatoes and lettuce on it seems almost as strange. Bananas are also eaten, sold, and bought by everyone all the time. On the street you get the local kind for around CDF75-100 per piece, with an additional ‘cadeau’ if you buy larger amounts.
Apropos baguette! When you pass by Pain Victoire, the large local bakery, you see a caravan of Congolese women, and a few men, with newly stocked and almost overflowing buckets on their heads looking to sell bread in the local neighborhoods for CF100 (around USD 0.20) a piece. This is the same price people would pay here for one cigarette at a street vendor; the whole pack goes for US$ 2.50 in the local restaurants. Luckily I do not smoke….
You see it is difficult to be stingy here in Kinshasa. There are however some tips about supermarkets providing discounts on certain days or having fresh fruit on others. But I have not figured them out yet…..