As I have talked with people about my cookbook, one common question is “Don’t I have to buy a lot of unique ingredients to make the recipes in your cook book?” My response is no. Most of the items are available in American grocery stores. There are a few ingredients like fresh curry leaves, kovakka and koorka that can only be found in Indian grocery stores.
Most of these stores are family owned. The store my family visits most often is National Imports in Carrollton, Texas. As a Malayali, owner Alex Easo specializes in ingredients and foods used in Kerala cooking. He carries a large number of items, most directly imported from Kerala that are not typically found in other Indian grocery stores. Upon entering his store, you will be met with a friendly greeting and the warm aroma of spices.
Each aisle of the store is organized with different items so you can find what you want quickly. One aisle is filled with fresh spices, from rice powder to asafetida to ground pepper, a variety of teas and Indian coffee. Another aisle is lined with prepared foods that can be warmed in the microwave and eaten in minutes. Some of the typical Kerala specialty items include shrimp pickle, papaddam and Kozhikode halwa. I have tried many of these items and found them to be excellent. I always keep several packages in my pantry for the days when I have too much to do. Frozen prepared foods, like chakka thoran (jackfruit thoran), can be found in Alex’s store as well. He stocks fresh and frozen meat and seafood (like sardines) and fresh vegetables. I like to buy my vegetables here because of his good prices and selection. I know they are grown locally. In particularly like the red onions because they are tastier, besides being smaller than the ones sold by chain grocery stores and I can use them without waste.
One surprise in National Imports is the amount of shelf space that is dedicated to snack foods – about 20 percent. This seems to me to be a higher percentage than in other grocery stores. If my family can be considered to be a representative sample of the population, this should not be a surprise. Some of the snacks are imported from India while others are made locally in the traditional style. Alex’s snacks include thin banana chips (a Kerala specialty), banana cuts (quarters) plain or in jaggery and jackfruit chips (chakka cholam), I have some favorite brands (as good as one can find in Kerala) but they are all very good.
In addition to food, Alex stocks the latest Malayali magazines and movies. Most Indian groceries stock them but they are all in Hindi. We pick up some every month for my mother-in-law.
You should visit Alex at National Imports if you have the opportunity. It is an interesting place and you will find that when you leave, you will be taking several bags home with you containing new things you want to try.
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