Kolkata is a consumables post, we get up to 2,500 pounds (for a two year assignment) of things that get used up or eaten shipped to post. You have up to a year to send the shipment after you arrive, and we decided to wait until after we arrived to have a better understanding of what we needed.
If you are already at post, you can work with a company to buy the things you want, work with a friend or family member, or use your time on R&R in the States to shop and monitor the packing, which is what we did in April.
We made our list and checked it twice, but we still threw in impulse items when shopping – and aren’t those Trader Joe’s Salt and Vinegar Pita Chips awfully good?
When the crate was opened, the packing by the U.S. company wasn’t wonderful, and included discarded lunch packaging from the shippers, but at least the pita chips arrived intact!
We only used 800 pounds of our shipment, mainly since we love the local cuisine and do not have many American brands that we are dedicated to. Sometimes the commonly imported items for a post are listed on the post’s Post Info to Go page (there is one for Kolkata). If not, sometimes the Community Liaison Office (CLO) has one if you contact them. These lists describe what may be hard to find at post considering American preferences.
Our shipment included, which will tell you more than you wanted to know about our habits:
*Bay leaves – a similar spice is available but not as pungent
*Tomato paste – more expensive in Kolkata
*Canned tuna - more expensive in Kolkata
*Resealable bags – hard to find and more expensive, but perfect for keeping roti fresh
*Zatatain’s crab boil
*Vanilla extract, the good stuff – synthetic is easy to find in Kolkata
*Peppermint extract – because we love peppermint ice cream
*Pita chips and tortilla chips – arrived safely and now we wish we shipped more
*Children’s Tylenol and Motrin – even though similar medications are available for children, we feel more comfortable with the U.S. brands, since we know how exactly how to use these without seeing a doctor first
*Neosporin – found a much cheaper, just-as-good Indian alternative after we bought this
*Children’s party supplies – also available in Kolkata, unless you want a specific character like Sesame Street or Tellitubbies
*Hair dye – no wait, I don’t use hair dye
*Deodorant – yes, we use deodorant and for the types we like they are cheaper in the US
*Toilet bowl cleaner – widely available and much cheaper in Kolkata, but our housekeeper strongly prefers US brands, and we are happy when she is happy
*Toilet paper – because I am a Scott fanatic and they do have a softer version
*Diapers and wipes – Larger sizes are hard to find, since most kids are potty trained by 18 months, but Sicily is almost there. Also, we prefer the chemical-free wipes which haven’t caught on here yet, but other types of wipes are widely available.
*Paper towels – we didn’t use paper towels much in the US, but our cook loves a US brand, and we are happy when she is happy
*Dog food – we were able to get a discount by buying in super bulk
*Dog treats - more expensive in Kolkata
*Trader Joe’s toasted O’s - more expensive in Kolkata
*Goldfish – haven’t found in Kolkata yet
*Kid’s sunscreen – prefer the super screen, 50+ or more
*Olive oil - more expensive in Kolkata, higher quality oils are hard to find
*Balsamic vinegar - more expensive in Kolkata
*Sun-dried tomatoes - haven’t found in Kolkata yet
*Roasted peppers - haven’t found in Kolkata yet
*Whole-bean coffee – we heard of a vendor that sells whole-bean coffee in New Market after packing up our shipment
*Nutella - more expensive in Kolkata
*Cake mixes - more expensive in Kolkata
*Pre-made frosting - great for an instant toddler activity “making sprinkles”
*Jams and jellies – we prefer low sugar and natural, and it wasn’t until after our shipment that I found a whole bunch at 1/3 the price in Kolkata!
*Pasta, pasta, pasta - more expensive in Kolkata
*Chocolate chips and white chocolate chips - more expensive in Kolkata
*Powdered sugar - haven’t found in Kolkata
*Tapenade – another impulse buy but we ended up buying at least 10 jars
*Evaporated milk – haven’t had a need for it yet, but seemed like we might
*Condensed milk – ditto
*Brown sugar - ditto
*Marshmallows – rice crispy treats seemed like a great idea in the grocery store
*Rice Krispies – and the jumbo ones made it seem like genius
*Magic erasers – for our white walls
*Margarita mix – definitely an impulse buy, I think we had some later that day
*Pickles – have not found certain varieties in Kolkata and they are more expensive here
*Capers – more expensive in Kolkata
As you can see from our list, it is hard to find imported items in Kolkata, since we have such a small expat community here, and if you do the item can be very expensive. I remember finding a small package of Philadelphia cream cheese in a store once, looking a little sad and costing $9. The consequence of this is that it pushes you to find local alternatives and satisfy your cravings with new foods. Luckily, Kolkata is a wonderful place for experimenting with food.
Coco was not as excited as we were to get our consumables
Plenty of space for more food!