Wanted! Wine Gums, Pain-Killers and Muddy Vegetables

Many an expat blog discusses the foodstuffs, home comforts and edible luxuries unavailable to them in their overseas posting. Sometimes I imagine them all – thousands of variously dispersed blogging Brits – soaking up the sun somewhere suitably exotic, and longingly salivating for a decent pickled onion or a packet of Scampi Fries. In Dubai we are lucky enough to have a wide variety of shops representing the equally wide variety of nationalities living here; we English folk frequently hug ourselves with glee when we remember that Dubai has branches of both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer in which to find comfort and familiarity (or is that just me with the gleeful self-hugging? Oh. I see… Do have a look at my post, The Worldwide Waitrose Web, for a cheery discussion on the perks of aggressive globalisation). The dry foods and frozen stuff stocked in Waitrose are pretty much as they would be at home (with less choice and no alcoholic or pork-based ingredients of course – Christ, it was murder finding a proper Christmas pudding…), but many fresh or perishable goods are locally sourced or imported from countries nearby. This, along with UAE legislation, means that, try as we might, certain items are simply unavailable out here…

The first of these elusive indulgences is a pack of good old-fashioned wine gums. My husband has an actual addiction to wine gums (please see this photographic evidence of his shameful private stash. It’s a sorry situation, isn’t it. And made so much worse by the fact that he stores them in a KFC Binge Bucket). You can’t get wine gums here in Dubai, though there are plenty of ludicrous sugar emporiums in which you can buy just about every other sweetmeat and confectionary on the planet. There can’t be a porky issue here as wine gums are made with bovine gelatine, so we have therefore concluded that the absence of wine gums can only be because UAE customs officials have been foxed by the word wine. Wine gums do not, of course, contain a single drop of alcohol (although, if they did, it might at least go some way towards explaining my husband’s obsession). To complicate this legal quirk further, wine gums are, bizarrely, very popular in Kuwait – a totally ‘dry’ country. Wine gums were invented by Mr Maynard, Junior, in the early years of the 20th Century and were called Wine Gums to make them sound like a more ‘grown up’ sweet for an older target market – the connoisseurs’ candy, if you will. Although it may have been that Mr Maynard, Junior, was just trying to wind up his father, Mr Maynard, Senior, who was a devout Methodist of the teetotal, temperance variety. The red and black ones are his favourites (my husband’s, not Mr Maynard’s) – I think they are called Port and Claret. Thinking about it now, I wonder if wine gums are actually meant to appeal to children who want to play at mimicking sophisticated adult vices… Like those candy cigarillos… or Babyccino ‘coffees’… Whatever next? Champagne Chupa Chups?  Caviar Dip Dabs?

For those amongst us who suffer from nasty headaches or backache, it can be tough getting hold of good painkillers out here, as UAE law prohibits the sale of any medicine containing codeine. There are days when I miss Syndol like I miss the company of an old friend (if I had any old friends who were particularly efficacious analgesics, that is). Syndol is an over-the-counter painkiller, marketed in the UK for ‘tension headaches’, as it not only contains paracetamol and codeine, but also a rather jolly muscle relaxant. The result is a couple of hours of pleasant, floppy, pain-free fuzziness. You feel as if you are hiding in a dark, warm cupboard at the back of your own brain. If you’ve never tried it, I can assure you that a weekday afternoon spent curled up on the sofa with a couple of Syndol, a cup of tea, a bar of Fruit & Nut, and a double-bill of Murder, She Wrote is a very special kind of bliss. Maybe it’s just as well you can’t get hold of it in this part of the world, come to think of it – I’d never get anything done…

Bananas by Blue Cicada Photography

Photograph courtesy of the amazing Blue Cicada Photography

A somewhat healthier craving I harbour is for fresh, organic veg. When we lived in Canterbury, we would often potter down to the farmers’ market, The Goods Shed, on a Sunday morning, and stock up on local seasonal vegetables for our roast dinner (do have a look at of their website: http://thegoodsshed.co.uk or check out my fellow WordPress blogger’s reviews of some of their amazing foodstuffs on her site A Canterbury Food Love Story. Most supermarket fruit and vegetables here are imported and many are chemically treated and hermetically sealed in cling film – I’ve purchased many sad bananas, tragic avocados and melancholy mangos that go straight from rock hard to rotten without ever being truly ripe. Here in this perpetual summer it’s also hard to keep a sense of what is actually seasonal. I often think about how lovely it was to choose from piles of fresh vegetables just plucked from the earth, the leaves glistening with that morning’s dew. You can’t beat a rummage through a pile of muddy carrots and grubby parsnips. The word ‘organic’ is often horribly misused over here, meaning anything from ‘Vegetarian’ or ‘Containing fresh ingredients’ through to ‘Vaguely healthy. Probably. We haven’t actually checked or anything…’ There are, however, some pioneers of organic farming starting to make a real impact in this part of the world. Heaven knows how they actually manage it in a desert, but if you’re interested in finding out, have a look at the website of these admirable and very groovy people: http://www.greenheartuae.com/

For all those non-perishable items that are legal but still maddeningly unattainable there are some rather wonderful companies who will put together parcels of goodies for you or your expat loved ones. There are quite a few great British websites doing this, and my current favourites are Home Comforts Goods and British Corner Shop. Wowsers – they actually stock wine gums too! For heaven’s sake, nobody tell the husband…


  1. It has rained so heavily this weekend, that my poor vegetable are doing doggy paddle to stay afloat in my vegetable patch.

    I will look at the price of sending you some muddy peas, strawberries and tomatoes. And some wine gums.

    Can you buy those chocolates that have liquor in them, or are they banned as well?

    • Poor drowned vegetables! Thank you for your kind offer of muddy fruits 😀 You can only get liqueur chocolates out here in the alcohol shops (with an alcohol licence). Otherwise people might get plastered by eating half a tonne of chocolates (and probably a bit fat too)…

      • I wonder if anyone has ever tried to get drunk on liqueur chocolates. i think I will have to google it.

      • I’d appreciate a calculation of how many chocolates I’d need to eat to get rat-arsed.

      • I might experiment this weekend

  2. There aren’t many things I miss apart from the nearest Marmite being in Miami…but I would like to find a self respecting pear which doesn’t resemble a robin pear made from plasticine.

    And come to think of it, wine gums would be rather nice too.

  3. Yes – I feel your pain – I’ve only ever had one decent avocado in six years. Wine gums? I wonder if Bassetts are at fault. I favour their chewy, sweetie-like vitamin gums for my daughter but the pharmacies are forever running out of stock – very frustrating. I tend to bulk buy in Spinneys now. Oh, finally – bananas – please try the small Indian varieties you can find in Lulu – delicious. Nice blog, thanks.

    • Bulk buying is always best out here I find, as, once they disappear from the supermarket shelves, they often take months to restock… I’ve had a recent run of luck with Lulu’s avocados recently – they must be in season somewhere in the world! Thanks for the banana tip! 🙂

  4. I’ll keep all the wine gums and save him!!

  5. Wine gums are delicious, though they are readily available here so hardly ever buy them…isn’t that always the way, you crave something that you can’t have, and then when its on your doorstep, you are not bothered.

    • Of course – we’re perverse creatures aren’t we… Go on – treat yourself to some wine gums 🙂

  6. I am about tto head over to Mexico from Australia with a suitcase packed with Redskins and Cadbury Creme Eggs for my friend so i totally understand!

  7. YOu have Marks & Sparks? AND Waitrose? Insert green-eyed jealous monster face *here*. Swap you for the nectarine tree in my garden. Deal?

  8. ” I can assure you that a weekday afternoon spent curled up on the sofa with a couple of Syndol, a cup of tea, a bar of Fruit & Nut, and a double-bill of Murder She Wrote is a very special kind of bliss.”
    I have never tried the whole combination, but you’ve got me tempted now!

    • Definitely worth a try – next time you have the house to yourself. Go on – I dare you 🙂

  9. Ha! I need some of that syndol stuff. The idea of spending an afternoon in a dark cupboard in the back of my brain sounds heavenly!!!
    You can’t get any decent painkillers in Sicily because they’re so Catholic that they regard pain as a privilege. They wouldn’t even give me so much as a junior disprin when I had my cesarian, for goodness sake! You’ve just supposed to twirl your rosary beads, say a few hundred Hail Marys and think of the heavenly rewards in the afterlife.
    You can buy all the antibiotics or steroids you want with no prescription, though. Sicilians are funny that way….

    • Jeepers – stock up next time you’re back in the UK! All that suffering and punishment and pain sounds hellish. There are situations in which an ‘expat bubble’ is required, and effective pain-relief is obviously one of them 🙂

  10. It’s interesting that despite the rapid and total transformation of Dubai, ex-pats still experience the same yearnings for things that aren’t available. I lived there in the 1970’s and your comment about lack of seasons made me remember that amongst other things, I missed seeing the shadows of clouds, race across the countryside.

    • Oh heavens, yes! That’s an emotive one for me. Thanks so much for visiting H&H. Love your photos of Dubai in the 1970s and the descriptions of the places you went to. So glad I’ve discovered your blog 🙂

  11. They just started selling Jelly Babies in Doha. Oh happy day. I hear you on the painkillers though, my migraines are getting progressively worse the longer I stay here. Not ideal.

    • Yay for jelly babies!! I presume you can’t get wine gums there… can you??

      • I’ve never really paid attention but I doubt it. I will investigate and get back to you…

  12. I am now feeling extremely guilty about having a constant supply of haribos and such like in the house. My youngest is dairy free so we always have a supply of all things chewy and jelly-like around – which of course I have to help him devour in order to save his teeth and body from ending up like mine!

    • 😀 Very selfless of you! Perhaps, for those very reasons, you should introduce him to wine gums too!!

  13. The weather has been so filthy here, there aren’t even broad beans on the market yet, muddy or otherwise…but I guess that’s no consolation. I do know what you mean about missing home – I lived in Dubai for just over a year…the weird thing is, after about 6 months back home, you will miss lots of things about Dubai and find yourself strangely drawn to the bottom end of the Edgeware Rd, for a glass of juice and a chicken sharwarma…your pictures of Satwa on the brain curry post made me very nostalgic….guess it is the human lot to want what is not 😉

    • I’m sure it is – and I’m sure I would be drawn to the alluring shisha smoke of the Edgeware Road!! Thank you for visiting and for your comforting, philosophical words 🙂

  14. Rick

    We were away on holiday in Guernsey when this blog was published. However, as I have made a comment on every single one of your blogs I’m not about to start missing, just because I was on holiday. Unfortunately all the things I was going to say have already been said leaving me with almost no comments. Another fun, keenly observed blog. See you next week!

  15. Our Adventure in Croatia

    and there is me thinking that in this exotic far away land you would have access to amazing fresh exotic fruit (ok maybe no golden delicious apples…) and that syndol sounds like a jolly good idea, much better than ordinary paracetamol… 😉

    • Definitely. I bet you can get it in Croatia! They do seem to import good Kiwi fruit out here, actually, and the watermelons are great…

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