While staying in Qatar for more than a decade now, one cannot deny the convenience that these smalls grocery stores are giving families and households in the community.
“Bakala,” pronounced as “BUH-KA-LAH” is a term known in middle eastern countries as local convenience stores.
It is different from the Philippines’ sari-sari store since bakalas are usually self-service mini-groceries with a small payment counter right at the entrance. Sari-sari stores are kiosk-style sundry stores selling varieties of household items and can be accessed through a small screen-covered or metal-barred window.
One of the distinct characteristics of bakalas that many new-comers in the Middle East find very amusing is the delivery service that it offers – even for small items like few pieces of eggs, a bottle of cooking oil, a pack of diapers, a gallon of drinking water, etc. It has become everyone’s default when running out of small household supplies right before heading home or even while busy preparing meals in the kitchen.
During the onset of the pandemic, the bakalas are one of those businesses that are allowed to operate amidst the closures of many other non-food related establishments like barbershops, laundry and tailor shops, computer shops, school supplies and the likes.
Bakalas in Qatar are predominantly owned and operated by Indian nationals. They were among the first settlers and the biggest expat community in Qatar. And with the growing number of other expat groups like Filipinos, these Indian businessmen even expanded their range of grocery supplies to include Philippine products.
There were even “Philippine Stores” selling mostly Filipino products yet are owned by Indian businessmen. This just proves the growing market for Pinoy products. Example of which include the Philippine Store, and the Amana Puregold in Al Sadd, plus a number of supermarkets in the Filipino souq area near Fanar Center.
Until a group of enterprising Pinoys braved the challenges of opening the first Filipino owned convenience store, called KUYA MAC’S CONVENIENCE STORE in Bin Omran area and soon, another branch in Najma (the same location of the former Miyah’s Restaurant).
Lately, there are big supermarket chains that are slowly changing the landscape of convenience stores in Qatar. While it is surprising that big brands like 7-Eleven, Family Mart, Ministop, and Lawson wasn’t able to penetrate the market yet, there are similar concepts that are slowly becoming available. They are relatively bigger, more stylish, and offers hot food items and other specialized products. Some of these brands include the Qatari-owned Sidra Convenience Stores located in almost all Wooqod Petrol stations, The Hub at The Pearl, and the increasing number of Monops – a smaller version of Monoprix stores now with two branches located in Porto Arabia The Pearl, and in Le Boulevard Al Sadd Street. There’s also the Korean Food Center in Bin Mahmoud area, and the Japanese/Korean store – Vision Mart in Al Sadd (corner of Hamad signal).
Honestly, convenience store is one business that I wanted to open in Qatar if given an opportunity. While it is still a far-fetched idea, it’s a dream that has been in my mind even few years back when I was starting the blog when I noticed that there are no Filipino-owned bakala serving the pinoy community in Qatar. I simply wanted to introduce the sari-sari store concept where I could also sell some popular Pinoy streetfoods like turon, and other distinct Pinoy products like walis tambo and bunot. And since ideas are free, it would even be good to see many “sari-sari stores” around Qatar in the very near future.