As people who know me are very much aware, my life revolves around eating. Every time we move anywhere, restocking the kitchen is a priority for me. With our move over here, the business of restocking was both more pressing (we couldn't move with large quantities of nonperishable foods or most of our kitchen wares) and more difficult (we moved to a completely new place where we don't speak the language or know our way around).
Maybe about 12 hours after our arrival in Astana, a couple of kind university TA's arranged for us and some other new arrivals to be taken shopping. On that trip, we all exchanged money, got cell phones (or SIM cards for the phones we brought from home), and went grocery shopping. The grocery trip was a great start, but the van we all rode in was close to capacity even before the shopping trip. I think we all maximized the space available, but for us, at least, the provisions we bought didn't last too long. There were some other problems, having to do with available kitchen wares, too. For instance, I bought pasta and realized after the fact that I had nothing to strain it with.
It didn't take too long for me to start worrying about our food situation. We had been told that one of the dorm buildings had a small store, so we went to check it out. It had mostly junk food, but it did have some important things like bottled water and milk.
The next thing that happened was that someone mentioned offhand that you could order groceries over the internet. We asked around, and ultimately placed an order with a company called Astykzhan. Since we don't speak Russian, we used Google Chrome and had it translate the pages. I was prepared for something to go wrong, but it actually worked pretty well. We sprung for rush delivery the first time (both to see if it would work and because we were pretty short of food in the apartment), and the delivery man arrived within the four hour time frame that was promised. We paid cash at the door. The main problems were lack of selection for certain items, inability to see produce before buying, and having to buy many items by the kilo. (I'm curious if the two of us can get through a kilo of cheese before it spoils!). On the whole, though, it was a useful service, and one that we will probably use a lot, especially in the winter.
Today, we tried another venue for food shopping. The university runs a weekly bus to a large store called Metro, and we decided to go today. I think the best way to describe it is something like a mix between Costco and maybe a Target. Size wise, it more closely resembled a Costco, but you could buy most items in non-bulk sizes, like at a Target. Interestingly, we had to get a membership card there, but it was free. I'm guessing that its purpose is to track what people are buying, much like club cards in the US. Shopping there took a good chunk out of the day, so I don't want to go every week, but it'll be particularly useful in the beginning. We were able to get some necessary housewares (coat hangers, a power strip, plastic food containers, etc), in addition to some groceries.
We're hoping to explore more soon and go to smaller stores and bazaars for some of our food, but between trying to settle in and preparing for classes, we haven't had the chance just yet. Since this is a long term stay, though, I'm sure we'll get around to it in time.