Sorry, you can’t get that here

Chocolates at WowPhilippines

Lately, I have been seeing a lot of expats talking about the things that they can’t get in the Philippines.  Mostly I see this on Facebook, people, especially those who have recently moved to the Philippines lamenting those things that they miss so badly from “back home” and you just cannot buy here.

I find that these kinds of complaints happen a lot during the holidays.  It gets started around Thanksgiving and continues right through Christmas.  I guess that all of us were ingrained during childhood to expect certain things, especially certain foods, during the holidays.  If we don’t have those foods that we so closely associate with certain holidays, well, the holiday is just not the same as what we remember.

The Butterball 2013

The Butterball 2013

Back around Thanksgiving there was just a huge chorus of expats on Facebook talking about Turkey.  Oh, they wanted Turkey so bad for Thanksgiving.  But, as they all said, you just can’t get Turkey in the Philippines, it is unavailable here.  That kind of surprised me, as I have been here for 14 Thanksgivings already, and we have almost always had a Turkey for Thanksgiving.  The couple of years that we did not have a Turkey it was only because we chose to cook some other type of food, but we could have had a turkey if we wanted to.  Turkeys are available in nearly every supermarket in Davao.  When we lived in General Santos they had turkey there too, but not as many places carried it.  The first year we were here we purchased a live turkey from a neighbor, had it butchered and cooked it for Thanksgiving. Every year since we have always bought a Butterball Turkey right out of the freezer in the grocery store.  So, as I say, I was so surprised when I learned on Facebook that Turkey is just not available in the Philippines!

As Christmas approached, same thing… so many things were unavailable.  At least that’s what the folks on Facebook told me.  I remember one fellow who badly wanted/needed a Pie.  He wanted an Apple pie or a Pumpkin pie.  Lots of people commented on his Facebook post, agreeing that such things simply were not available in the Philippines.  As I sat at my desk enjoying a piece of Apple Pie, I told him that he could get both Apple and Pumpkin pie at S & R.  This fellow was living in Manila, and there are several S & R stores in Manila.  Also, right here on the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine, over the holidays Feyma posted an article on how to make a pumpkin pie using local ingredients available here in the Philippines.  Sad, though, that pies are not available here.

Molasses Truck in the Philippines

Molasses Truck in the Philippines, plenty here to make some BBQ sauce!

A few days ago, another American expat posted on Facebook saying that he wanted some BBQ Sauce, and he was going to try to make some himself.  By the way, I make BBQ sauce all the time, and keep a supply of my homemade BBQ sauce in the refrigerator.  Anyway, as comments came in on FB regarding the BBQ sauce, it was mentioned that in order to make good BBQ sauce, you need molasses.  Sad to say, I also learned from the Facebook post that molasses is not available in the Philippines.  I was surprised when it was posted about molasses not being available, because molasses is a product that you get from the processing of sugar cane, and sugar cane is one of the major cash crops in the Philippines!  Funny also, when I drive out in the provinces of Mindanao, sometimes I get stuck behind slow moving tanker trucks (big ones like the gasoline trucks you see back in the States), and on the back of these tankers it is written “Molasses”.  Hmm… I wonder what those trucks are carrying… after all, Molasses is not available in the Philippines!

Learn Bisaya/Cebuano

The point here is… most things that we need or want in life are available in the Philippines!  Some are harder to get than others, some cannot be purchased in the store at all.  But, even items that cannot be bought in the store can still be had if you want then bad enough, home cooking of pumpkin pie is an example.  So, if you are new here, don’t get too flustered and upset about something you are missing from home.  Do a bit of research and you might just find that what you want is just around the corner!  With a little ingenuity you can have just about anything you might want!

Post Author: MindanaoBob (942 Posts)

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur who is based in Davao. Bob is an American who has lived permanently in Mindanao since May 2000. Here in Mindanao, Bob has resided in General Santos City, and now in Davao City. Bob is the owner of this website and many others.

Author Info


    • Heinz Schirmaier says

      Hi Kenneth.
      I little dab of goose grease will do ya also, LOL!
      Seriously though, why would you use that greasy stuff? can only find that stuff at Walgreens here in the States and nobody buys it anymore.
      Either you’re dating yourself or have a serious “Comb-over” problem lol! My advise! cut your hair short like Bob and me and presto! Brylcreem problem all gone! BTW! used to use it also 58 years ago for my “Ducktail” hair style, lol!

  1. Scott D says

    Hi Bob,
    People saying there was no turkey in the Philippines mist be blind or looking under the wrong rocks. Last August in Gensan I saw plenty of turkeys in SM grocery store. If you truly want something it might cost more but you will find it.

    • says

      Hi Scott – Yes, you are right for most things. A few things cannot be found, but for most everything you can find it these days. As you say, price may be a bit higher than you are used to, but you can get it if you want it bad enough.

  2. says

    Funny article, Bob. Reminds me when I moved to the West Coast 35 years ago. I was sure I could never again get a decent bagel or New York style pizza. That is until a translated East Coaster opened a jewish deli and another one opened a New York style pizza shop. You can get most of what you want if you are creative, look around or have a bit of patience. Hell, my wife was positive she could not get lechon here – until we found it at the local Asian market!

  3. says

    Hmm, James… I don’t recall every saying or even thinking that everyone lives in Davao. I suspect that you didn’t even read the article, because I also talked about how I got a turkey when I lived in GenSan. GenSan is not Davao, di ba? ;-) Just saying…LOL…

  4. says

    Also, James Monson, in the article I never even mentioned SM. When we lived in GenSan, the closest SM was not even in Mindanao.. there had not been a single SM built on Mindanao at that time! We would have had to catch a boat or plane to go to SM. Things are available at places other than SM, my friend.

  5. says

    Your right…I have not read it yet…LOL. I know Gen San…Been there…done that. Gen San is a big city compared to where I live. I am just adding that it really depends on where you hang your hat, on what is available or not. Hehehehe

  6. says

    I lived in GenSan many years ago, James Monson. When I lived there you could not buy butter or cheese there, you had to drive 3 to 4 hours for that. So, what GenSan is today is not what it was when I lived there.

  7. says

    Gen San is beautiful. I really enjoyed my time there last month. The Hotel we stayed at was 1st class. I also had a great steak…and had lunch at Pac Man’s restaurant….it was Yummy. I really liked Gen San.

  8. says

    The last Thanksgiving Day I spend in Olongapo City, I really wanted some pumpkin pie. Alas, I couldn’t find pies or even the filling anywhere locally. As much as I wanted it, I wasn’t going to make a special trip to Manila to get some.

    That may have changed since then. There’s now an SM and an Ayala Mall nearby (less than 5 clicks from my house).

  9. says

    Hey I found out that there’s even an ice rink and a hockey league in Manila! If I end up moving to Subic Bay, I might have to bring my old Super-Tacks and make a once a month or so trip to the rink! I know it’s not something you “buy” like molasses or a Butterball, but lacing up the skates was one thing I was gonna miss…

  10. says

    I buy any of 15 brands of BBQ sauce at the Royal, Pure Gold or SM Store “Molasses” is the main ingredient in RUM, so I know it’s here in the Philippines.
    RHUM has no “Molasses” in it.

  11. Dennis Glass says

    I think you can get just about anything you want as far as good ol American food. Just be ready to pay for it.

  12. says

    I can’t get a weed-whacker” that won’t go “tits-up” in 3 weeks!!!!
    No, wait, I can, I just have a bad habit of buying the nice shiny, Chinese ones in Dau for 7,000 pesos.

    I was able to make my award-winning, infamous “Texas Chili” here in Dinalupihan, from ingredients purchased at Pure Gold or Royal. If that don’t cover the widest spectrum of items, nothing does. A little dab’il do ya!

    • Rick Lowe says

      Hey Reed,

      What level is that rink? Maybe SM will put in a snow machine next, since Filipinos constantly ask me what snow is and how wonderful it looks on TV. Henry Sy could make a few more billion bucks charging just 20p for admission to throw snowballs…

      That mall is so big that on 3 trips so far my wife has either depleted my wallet to vapor levels or the kids have eaten their way through food so much i am bloated that i had to discontinue my further foraging.

      Very nice mall, and keeps getting better as more shops and restaurants are piling in there, but man is it big! Im going to just drive my SUV in the door next trip and cruise around inside instead of walking eh?

  13. says

    Cool (no pun intended) The first rink inside a mall I’d ever seen was in Montgomery, AL of all places! But it was about half the size if a hockey rink, and there was DEFINITELY no hockey! Sorry Bob, didn’t mean to hijack the post.

  14. AJ UK says

    Hi Bob

    It was your good self that informed me of where to get a turkey for our Christmas dinner and it was delicious.

    One thing your article demonstrates is how lazy people have got in society in general. You may not be able to buy apple pie but you can buy a baking tin, flour, apples etc. Same same with pumpkins.

    My mum came over at Christmas, she cooked the Christmas dinner by the way, and she was surprised at how much stuff you can buy in the shops. It may not all be the same names that we are used to but is generally available.

    At the end of the day, if you miss something that much you either create it yourself or think whether you should have left home in the first place. I’m still learning the ropes in Davao City but I can’t say that there is too much that I can’t find.


    AJ UK

    PS – the ribs from the hot shelf in S&R have got to be the best that I have tasted anywhere in the world!

  15. Mark from Davao says

    Hi Bob I have followed your site for some time while I was living in Vancouver, Canada. I am now living and enjoying Davao city for last 3 months. I really miss making tacos and have difficulty finding them in stores. Once I found them but the shells were all smashed and I have not found them since then. I prefer the soft shell ones if you know where to buy.
    Thanks for any help and keep up the great website.

    • says

      Thank you Mark, I’m happy that you’re visiting my site regularly. You can get both soft shell and hard shell tortillas at SM in Ecoland. They have both corn and flour tortillas. You can find them in the freezer case. We have tacos regularly, so I know you can find them. Enjoy!

  16. John Miele says


    In the bigger cities (especially Manila), I have found that just about everything is available… at a price. You may need to search, and it may be expensive, but it is here in the country SOMEWHERE. Now, would it be convenient? Really depends, and it is something to consider when choosing where to live.

    Provinces is an entirely different matter. Imports are usually expensive, and cheaply made, if you can find them at all. There are some things you will need to really search for, do without, or make shopping runs to Manila or elsewhere if you need it. For instance, last time in Abulug, a light bulb blew out in the house. There is one sari sari in town that “may” have a bulb in stock (nothing special, just ordinary bulbs). Price? You pay for convenience. The sari sari charges P300 for a bulb. Don’t like the price? 12 km drive to next town over and spend P150. Otherwise, drive to Tuguegarao (3 hours) and pay P50. Need a special bulb, like for a refrigerator or oven? Either 45 minute drive plus a banca ride, or a two hour drive, depending on where you go. Just forget about imported food up there. Nearest imports of any kind are a small carinderia about 1 1/2 hours away that makes monthly runs to Subic to stock up on a few things like chocolates.

    Really, I don’t miss too much other than some imported foods. Most are here (quality is a different issue), but most require a drive through traffic, or are very expensive when you buy them. Is it worth it to me? Sometimes. Very few exceptions, though, is something simply not here. I will also say that Internet delivery here is also an option, though reliable shipping makes it a bit unreliable, and it can get expensive really quick with duties and freight.

    • says

      Hi John – certainly no doubt you are correct with your example in remote provincial areas but I would argue that the number of expats living in those types of areas is very small.

  17. corey says

    Living in Davao I find most imported things and what I want are in Gmall, I joined S&R thinking the same, but find the place a huge disappointment for food related products. I oftentimes find myself scratching my head as to why I signed up to that place. Costco or Sams Club it ain’t!!!! One thing I crave for is good beef and I have found some the best meat outside of the States I have ever had. It’s Japanese Wagyu and it is very reasonably priced. Available in CDO or Manila so when I make a trip to Manila I load up on the beef.

  18. says

    I agree that most of what you want is available in the Philippines but the devil is in the details as it usually is. I wanted a smart battery charger that reverts to trickle charge at the end of the charge cycle. No such luck in finding same in CDO or Butuan. I wanted plain vanilla jack stands for my truck. Available here but at 4x the cost. I wanted a bull-nose diamond router bit to finish my granite counter top. No luck here.

    • says

      Hi Miron – I suppose that if you cook your own food, you can go heart healthy by choosing the right ingredients. The typical Filipino diet is not very heart healthy, I give you that! :-)

  19. GregK says

    Gotta say, living in Cebu I didn’t lack for any imported foods. Were they expensive? Some were. One thing I noticed coming back to the states was how expensive the food had become. Restaurants even more. I shopped a lot at S and R and though it isn’t Costco or Sam’s club it really opened up the choices we had.
    As far as barbecue sauce,,,,Sweet Baby Ray’s was sold there, so we stocked up. Do you have as many food choices there? No, but eating Lechon regularly makes up for the lack of other food.Oh…and the SMB is a lot cheaper and better than most sold here. :D

    One thing I can’t find here though ….is whitening products. :D

    Oh I miss the Chicken manok too… just isn’t the same here.

    • says

      Hi GregK – Yeah, Cebu, Davao and Manila, any of the major cities have plenty of imported items. One key also is to learn ways to make foreign foods using local ingredients… Feyma is an expert on that. ;-)

  20. says

    Bob, it may be that which people miss most around the holidays is old friends and family from “back home”, While you can go home again, it not the same, the folks are, but you’ve been to town and seen Paris. I crave showing old friends new places and things, I kind of like to change their views, play devil’s advocate and see the light on their face or even better hear them explain when they go back to the farm. It is both the blessing and curse of travel and making a home anywhere you are. I believe the saying goes ‘new fiends are silver old ones gold’ @ my age most of my friends are gold, chronology anyway.

    • says

      Perhaps you are on to something there, Gerald. I guess I’ve been here long enough that I don’t really miss my friends from back in the States any more, though.

  21. says

    HI Bob – I was able to purchase my first Butterball Turkey the other week at an SM Hypermart in the provincial capital. So far, it’s the only venue up here for such purchases, and when a shipment comes in, the “birds fly the coop” in a matter of hours. Expats up here buy them all up almost immediately, using the wise old saw of: “If you see it in stock, buy as much as you can because it will be out of stock for a long time.” ;)

    I got lucky – the turkey I was able to buy was “the last one” plus it was of such size that it’ll satisfy cravings while fitting into the oven! Perhaps I’ll invent a new holiday in late January that calls for celebration with turkey! :lol:

    • says

      Hi Paul – Living in a rural area like you do, there should be plenty of farmers who have some live turkeys and would be willing to sell you one for the holidays, at the appropriate time. Have you ever checked into that?

      Glad you got one to satisfy your craving, though!

  22. says

    My wife is a genius and expert at using local ingredients to make American food. It is so much fresher and cheaper than buying the expensive imported items. We lack nothing except having our American family members close.

  23. bloodymal says

    I walked miles around sm, puregold and Robinsons last time in P.I’S LOOKING FOR SATAY no avail…which surprised me as satay is an Asian concept….its no drama I could make it but to much mucking about,,so I will balikbayan box some over…problem solved..

    • says

      Satay is Asian, but not Filipino, so not surprising that it was hard to find! For me, on things like that, the key is to learn how to make it yourself… or better yet… your wife make it for you! ;-)

  24. says

    Interesting post, Bob Martin. I remember when I first got here I wasn’t able to find certain things I wish were here. (Not sure if it actually wasn’t available or whether I was just too new and didn’t know where to look!) Now, with places like S&R, I think I can find nearly every single thing I need/want in Davao.

    The only thing that might be difficult is when it comes to particular brands. (Deodorant, specialty foods, etc.) They may have the product you want, but not the particular brand you’ve become accustomed to. A much smaller gripe, though!

  25. PalawanBob says

    Milk and/or cheese products!, almost nonexistent with the exception of a few processed products Magnolia type.

    • says

      I’m sorry, but that’s absolutely incorrect. There are lots of dairy products that are imported, especially from New Zealand. Here in Davao, you can also buy many products imported from the United States, both milk and cheese. Of course, if you live in a very rural area those things would not be available.

  26. PalawanBob says

    I said ALMOST nonexistent but of course a limited choice of cheese is available.
    Perhaps the readers would be interested to know that they can buy cheese on-line here
    I am very pleased to say that after 4 years of buying from them I never had a problem!
    VERY EFFICIENT outlet!

  27. Brenton Butler says

    Hi Bob – Food choices are tough in the Philippines. You mention because of imported options it is tough and the ability to access such items. I would also suggest food of reasonable salt levels, sugar levels and msg free etc is tough to find. I estimate the Philippine diet and the general supermarket stocks are surely shortening a lot of Filipinos lives by circa 10 years. It took our family about 4 months after moving to Dumaguete to work out the local food options that were low salt, low sugar and msg free etc. That means we don’t eat most of the food from the supermarket. Lol. How ever we got there and by finding local substitutes the best we could to accomadate our family diet, we now eat relativly healthy and save ourselves the torment of searching out products we can’t get. How ever when family visit, it is a requirement they bring a kilo or two of Vegemite. That’s a super popular Australian spread that most other countries hate the taste of. The Vegemite is the only item we desire outside local options.

    • says

      Hi Brenton – Sugar, MSG, Salt and such… I did recommend making your own foods using local ingredients. When you go buy veggies at the market and such, then you get to controls how much of these ingredients go in. A fresh squash or green beans have no MSG, right? ;-)

      As for vegemite… well… ha ha… no comment, I don’t want to offend you! ;-)

      • Brenton says

        Hi Bob – You don’t like Vegemite. Lol. The Philippine people seem to screw their faces up at it as well. I thought they might like it because of the bitter salt taste, but they don’t.

  28. says

    One thing you can’t seem to buy is dressed timber. Wanted to divide a large room last trip but when I realised I was going to have to have timber planed locally, I gave up on the idea.

    I realise you can’t eat it though, even if liberally doused with BBQ sauce.

    • says

      Hi Jim – I had to go look up what “dressed” timber was. It would seem that it is what we might call “milled” lumber in the States. I had never heard the term until your comment. Actually, you can buy timber here, but it is not precision milled like what we westerners might be looking for. Generally, it is coconut wood, lower quality all around. So, things are available here, just different! ;-)

      And, you’re right, it might not be too tasty! ;-)

  29. PapaDuck says

    We just sent 3 boxes of items back that were very expensive there or scarce including buckwheat pancake mixes, sugar free jam, canned pumpkin and beef stick summer sausage to name a few. It’s always worth it to me to spend the extra money for “comfort foods”.

    • says

      Hi PapaDuck, it is always good to have the items that make us happy. Also, remember that most of the things you mention can be made using local ingredients available here.

  30. Gary says

    1) Potassium Gluconate supplements. I can’t find them here. I get cramping in my toes if I don’t take them. I have them shipped from the U.S.

    2) Ginger root capsules. Ground up ginger root in capsule form. Good for nausea relief. I’m a cigar smoker and often smoke cigars on an empty stomach. Guaranteed to give me a stomach ache. I take one or two ginger root capsules and the nausea is gone in 5 – 1- minutes. I have these shipped from the U.S., also. (I went to several GNC stores in the Phl but not available.)

    3) Caffeine Free Coke LIght (Diet in the U.S.). Coke Light in the morning and Caffeine Free Coke Light in the afternoon or evening. But since living in the Phl no more Caffeine Free Coke Light for me.

  31. says

    Yea pumkin pie is available at SNR starting at the end of July or so. Maybe during August but definitely before September. Whats wrong with BBQ sauce from SM? It’s alright i guess there are only a couple of choices but then again you can go to SNR and buy the imported stuff or like they say “make your own” Liked the articles thanks

  32. says

    Yea pumkin pie is available at SNR starting at the end of July or so. Maybe during August but definitely before September. Whats wrong with BBQ sauce from SM? It’s alright i guess there are only a couple of choices but then again you can go to SNR and buy the imported stuff or like they say “make your own” Liked the articles thanks

  33. says

    Most things 90% of your want items can be found there. It takes effort as for many things associated with being an expat. Being an expat involves effort and work. People forget that when they retire to the PH. In my 6 years I lived there I had most everything I wanted.

  34. says

    Love your post here Bob, I was in a grocery store in a small town near Dipolog, visiting the adult beverage section and LOW and Behold, and there is was, a bottle of Jack Daniels! Covered with dust, yes of course I bough it!

  35. Neal in Davao says

    Pretty much found everything that we are looking for here in Davao, but shopping for US branded item can get very pricey fast. Slowly we are finding local items (mainly food) that are similar to products that we were used to in the US. It is quite a learning curve!!

  36. says

    The rig above in States are commonly classified as Cab Over Truck/Tractor Trailer for short or local deliveries. The other most common types are Semi-Trailer 18 wheeler with sleeper known as the Condo type Cab for Interstate long distance haulage. Some drivers are husband & wife as partner in driving with their kids & even pets to go anywhere in 48 States. There are lots of convenient truck stops in every cities where they can do laundries, showers ,& shopping then rest with a hook up heater or air-con in your truck to allow your truck engine to sleep too. what a life ! wanna build a truck stop Bob ?

  37. says

    The article really is not about the ‘rig’ Bienvenido Garcia, that is really another topic altogether, which I really don’t have much interest in.

  38. says

    I find the comment that “Oh I miss so and so, Can’t buy it anywhere here in the Philippines”, I have been going back and forward to the Philippines since 1980, then there was a shortage of stuff I liked from home. But now I go to Cebu and id you look around and ask the local people or people like Bob you can find most anything somewhere in the Philippines. We Aussies eat and love (not many other nationalities do), something called Vegemite and I have bought it in both Davao and Cebu at several different places. If you can not find a product you want and Bob can not help you with advice then just contact the manufacturer of your product via the net and ask them where you can purchase said items.

  39. says

    I over time have found that some of the criticisms posted in regard to not finding exactely what the poster wants is ridiculous. If it was that they can not find this thing then it would be about something else. Spare a thought for our wives when they move overseas as a lot of the products they enjoy can not be bought in places like Australia due to Quarantine laws so the ladies adjust and try something else or get the product sent from home to them. If you can not get certain products ie. Turkey to eat, is your biggest problem then you are very lucky lol. Just be grateful that you have people to ask like Bob and that you have chosen such a wonderful country to live in

  40. says

    Also it is a good idea to try the food etc in the Philippines as guess what you might enjoy to try new things. If some of the food is not to your taste then do not eat. I have tried many different foods etc that I thought I would not like. Just enjoy the adventure and lifestyle

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