7 reasons why you should buy from Indian/Middle East grocers
Many Filipinos I know find the smells inside an Indian/Middle Eastern grocer too intense and are put off by it. Luckily for me, curiosity always wins out. I just find the smells really different.
I was in a meeting once at Pope Pious along UN Avenue. The meeting was so upsetting that I stepped out for a bit. I found myself walking along UN Avenue and saw several Indian/Middle Eastern shops. They had this sweet little squares made from milk and so much more. I tried the milk squares and loved it. I asked them what it’s called but I can’t remember it now. I would have wandered around more if only I didn’t need to get back to that meeting.
If you like cooking or are into natural/homeopathic/herbal way of life, you should go inside an Indian/Middle Eastern grocery. Here’s why:
The office I once worked at was just a five-minute walk to the Indian/Pakistani grocer, Taj, along Bagtikan Street in Makati. They make samosas almost daily. Samosa is a vegan empanada that goes with a rich tamarind sauce that balances out the spiciness of it all. Taj also had a branch near the entrance of Alabang 400 that had samosa every Sunday. Too bad it had since closed shop. Mustafa has since taken the place of Taj and there’s also Incredible India that’s just a few steps away.
It was really henna that I was looking for when I first went inside Taj. Henna is an alternative to chemical hair dyes. It is a hassle to apply but I find it more fun. I mix pure henna with coffee and the juice of dalandan, calamansi, key lime, or whatever citrus fruit I find in the market or in the garden. My philosophy is: if it’s edible, it cannot poison you. Of course, I don’t eat henna but I do eat/drink dalandan, calamansi, key lime, and coffee.
3. Curry powder
Indian families mix their own curry powder. They roast cumin, cardamom, coriander and whatever else and grind it. Different homes use different ratios. I loved the ones I got at Taj and got hooked the first time I used it. Once you cook with curry powders from Indian/Middle Eastern grocers, there’s no going back to McCormick.
4. Almonds and other nuts
I used to get the almonds from baking supply shops. When I saw them in the Indian/Middle Eastern grocer, they were cheaper and they even sell them in smaller packs. Indian/Middle Eastern grocers also offer a wider array of nuts. Of course, cashews and peanuts are common but they also have pistachios and hazelnuts. It was when I discovered them at Taj years ago that I tried my hand at making my own almond milk. It’s easier than you think.
If you’re into chips and other salty junk food, you might want to try a papadum. Think of it as an aggressively seasoned thin tortilla. I crisp it in the microwave for about a minute. You can eat it with chutneys or other dips.
6. Dried herbs and spices
There’s a reason why the Europeans set sail for the East. Groceries will have a pack of ground nutmeg, ground cloves, ground coriander, etc. At the Indian/Middle Eastern grocer, they have whole nutmegs, cloves, coriander, cardamom, fennel seeds, and so much more at just a fraction of the price local groceries offer. They also have dried rosemary and oregano at just a fraction of what it would cost you in local supermarkets.
7. Garam masala, tikka masala and a whole lot more
Indian cooking is not just about curries. There’s tandoori, vindaloo and a whole lot more. Search the internet for recipes and there’s a good chance you’ll find what you need in the Indian/Middle Eastern grocer. When Rustan’s had ribeye on specials, I marinated some of it with the tikka masala I found at Taj. Different marinade, different flavour, different side dishes. It just expands your culinary repertoire.