Love dosas? curries? samosas? Wish you could whip up Indian delicacies like a pro, but have no idea where to start? Head on down to your local Indian grocery store, where you’ll find an amazing wealth of vegan-friendly imported goods. I’ve always been a sucker for the exotic flavors found in Indian food, and since returning from a three week honeymoon in India (best trip ever!), I can’t get enough of them. I’d love to say that my kitchen is full of exotic spices and flours, but in reality, my kitchen is full of frozen dosas and bags of pre-mixed curry powders. Whether your magic happens in the microwave, or on the stove, you won’t walk away from an Indian grocery store empty handed.
As a regular Indian grocery store shopper, there are a couple of things you’ll start to notice, the most important being the green dot. A large segment of the Indian population is vegetarian (including no eggs), so to make shopping easier, they devised a system of dots. The green dot means that the food does not contain meat or eggs. If you see this green dot, you are in luck – as it means all you have to look out for is dairy (or rarely, honey). Be watchful for yogurt, curds, whey, milk, paneer, and ghee (except for vanaspati ghee which is hydrogenated vegetable oil). Things you don’t have to be wary of include: jaggery (unrefined sugar), asafoetida (an onion-like plant), dal (lentil), ajwain (spice), gram (spice), maida (flour) and amchur (mango). These are the main funky sounding (but entirely vegan) ingredients I’ve run across, but let’s just say that it never hurts to have a smart phone handy or a friendly grocery clerk around to help you out, as you’re likely to run into other strange ingredients.
Shopping the Indian grocery aisles always brings out the middle schooler in me, as I giggle my way past the “dhudhi bread” and the “cook fresh fatafat”. I always get a chuckle out of the instructions on the packaging that tell me to add a tea cup of water, as I dutifully rummage through my cupboards to find my finest china tea cup to complete my recipe. I often ruminate on what you could possibly make with a bag of frozen gooseberries or pointed gourds, as I load up on my bulk bags of samosas. Not everything in the grocery store is completely foreign though, as you’re likely to find the Pilsbury Doughboy’s face smiling up at you from a package of frozen roti. Our gluten-free friends should fear not, as Indian cuisine has a lot to offer, with a majority of goods being comprised of rice and lentil flours. You can load up on dosas, uttapams, and idli to your heart’s content.
While perusing the frozen section, make sure to keep an eye out for a vegan-friendly brand of dosa, uttapam, idli, roti, vada, dhokla (my favorite!), khandvi, kebab, samosa, sambhar and kachuri. Most of these are sold at a mind blowing $1.99 – college students rejoice! While in the chat (Indian snack) section, keep an eye out for KurKure (I could eat bags of the “Masala Munch” flavor), soan papdi (magical cardamom dessert – watch out for ghee in some brands), Thums Up (Indian version of coca-cola), and a myriad of cereal-like snack mixes.
There are Indian grocery stores in every major city I’ve lived in or visited. Austin is no exception, and we have quite a few to choose from! Some are better (i.e., have a larger frozen section for the terminally lazy) than others. My personal favorite is Gandhi Bazar on W Parmer Ln. Not because it’s the largest, but because it’s next to one of my favorite Indian restaurants, Curry in Hurry (they were in too much hurry to include an “a”). If you’re in the area, make sure to check them both out – you won’t regret it.