I buy my groceries at different stores depending on what I need to buy. I usually buy fresh produce at Market Street or Central Market while I buy supplies and packaged goods from Wal-Mart or Target.  The last few times I was in my favorite Indian grocery stores to pick up spices, I purchased some of their vegetables so I wouldn’t have to make additional stops. Each time I was stunned when the storeowner rang up the sale and gave me a total that was less than I expected! The prices for common items in Indian food like red onions, eggplant, cauliflower, ginger and garlic were far lower than those in chain stores.

 

I purchased the items below at the New Diamond Grocers, Wal-Mart and Central Market. I included Wal-Mart because it is reported to be the low price leader and Central Market because it is a high priced foodie haven owned by HEB. (I have to admit that I absolutely love the wide variety of the most beautiful food options they provide and shop here often.) Here is what I found:

 

Item New Diamond Grocers Wal-Mart Central Market
Cauliflower 1.99 ea 2.78 ea 2.99 ea
Eggplant 1.45/lb 1.78/lb 1.78/lb
Fresh garlic 1.49/lb 2.78/lb

2.50/lb

(.50/head)

Fresh ginger .99/lb 2.38/lb 1.99/lb
Green onions

.11/oz

(.33/3 oz)

.23/oz

(1.14/5 oz)

.35/oz

(.69 – 5 ea)

Okra 2.49/lb NA 2.99/lb
Red onions .69/lb 1.45/lb 1.79/lb
Roma tomatoes .99/lb 1.14/lb 1.49/lb

 

 

On average, the prices at New Diamond Grocers was 39% lower than Wal-Mart 40% lower than Central Market. This difference is amazing. By purchasing basic fresh produce from your local store, you can definitely make a positive impact on your budget!

 

My next money saving quest will be to see how much I can save on dried spices. That may be a no brainer.

 

Instead of waiting until Small Business Saturday why not help out the small mom and pop stores all year long!
 

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When Alex Easo opened his new National Imports store in Carrollton, Texas, I thought I would try out the fresh produce he sold in his inviting market display. The first items I bought from him were red onions, ginger and garlic. 

 

Tasty red onions, ginger and garlic from the Indian store.

Tasty red onions, ginger and garlic from the Indian store.

 

I was amazed at the petite size of the red onions. Grocery store red onions are so huge that just a fraction of one is required for most recipes. The rest has to be stored in my fridge (stinking up the vegetable drawer) for future use. Often, it spoils and is just wasted. Indian store red onions are just the right size for Indian recipes without any waste. The best part about the ones from the Indian grocery is their mild flavor. I can use them raw on a salad and won’t be overwhelmed with onion breath. I asked the owner of my local Indian store about this and he reported that they are different varieties.

 

Fresh ginger is sold in pieces in both stores. I noticed that the pieces in the Indian groceries are larger but that is due to the amount that is used in recipes at home. The flavor, texture and color of the ginger carried in both stores are different. I learned that the ginger at chain groceries is from Mexico while the ginger in Indian groceries is from China. The skin is a little darker and the texture is stringier on the Mexican ginger than that from China. When mincing the Chinese ginger, I didn’t notice as many long fibers which make it more desirable for cooking.

 

In addition I purchased a package of 5 heads of garlic. The heads as well as the cloves are smaller. I noticed right away that the cloves inside are more consistent in size. The flavor of the garlic from the Indian grocery is milder so it doesn’t leave the same amount of garlic odor on your hands.

 

Which store sells fresh produce at the lowest price? Wal-Mart? Central Market? Or my local Indian grocery? Come back next week to read my report.

 

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This summer while I was traveling through India to collect photos, stories and recipes, I missed the grand reopening of my local Malayali grocery store. Reggie Andrews who worked with Alex Easo, the owner, to design the new store tried repeatedly to contact me while I was away.

 

National Imports in Carrollton, TX, specializes in Kerala food products.

National Imports in Carrollton, TX, specializes in Kerala food products.

 

 

When I came home from the trip and learned of the new store, I went to visit as soon as I could. This new store at 2830 N. Josey Lane which is on the northeast corner of Josey and the George Bush Turnpike in Carrollton, TX is located in an upscale brick building just across the street from its former location. Inside, the store is huge with much larger selections of fresh produce, frozen foods and kitchenware than could not be housed in the old store. Alex Easo and Reggie Andrews have made this a very inviting place to visit.

The entrance to National Imports looks like a street in Kerala.

The entrance to National Imports looks like a street in Kerala.

The interior has been designed so you will feel like you are on a street in a neighborhood in Kerala with shops all around you. The entrance area is large for group gatherings and events and the office has been built with Kerala-style windows and Hindi movie posters to make it look like a local store. From the tea stand with the authentic tea urn and a wire basket for transporting cups of tea to the vegetable stand and meat market in the back it is a feast for the imagination. People are drawn to the authentic bicycle and Enfield motorcycle as well as the mail box which were popular in India during the 1950s.


As you browse up and down each aisle, you will see all of the new products he has for sale. I was amazed to see so many different frozen foods, spice mixes and ready to use curries from Kerala in one place. Each aisle has been carefully designed, from the natural looking bronze shelving to the wooden end caps. Looking above the shelves and coolers, traditional Indian cooking equipment and decorative items have been artfully arranged. Alex and Reggie were especially creative with the fishing display that they installed above the wall freezers. It is complete with a traditional looking boat, nets and a string of fish.


Produce department in National Imports in Carrollton, TX, looks like an authentic Kerala market.

Produce department in National Imports in Carrollton, TX, looks like an authentic Kerala market.


When I left the store, I felt a part of Alex Easo’s neighborhood which he has created to feel just like home, not a sterile chain grocery store.

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A few years ago I tasted a sample of Tasty Bite’s Madras Lentils during one of my weekly visits to Costco. It was so delicious that I bought 2 boxes (8 packages). Since then I have bought many more ready to used Indian products and always keep a few in the pantry. This product intrigued me. It was made in India and looked to have the sophisticated marketing of a U.S. company.


Twenty years ago I would see a shelf about 2 feet wide of Indian food products on one shelf in the grocery store chains. From simmer sauces to heat-and-eat dishes, Indian convenience foods had hit the U.S. market; however, none were actually made in India. Ok, a few were made in the U.K. which has had a love affair with Indian food for 150 years. I now see a wide array of products in every grocery store. Not just one shelf but an entire section, from top to bottom. This tells me that Americans have caught the bug that infected the British a century ago and that they want Indian food without any fuss.

A sample of ready to use Indian food products at a local Indian store.

A sample of ready to use Indian food products at a local Indian store.


Indian grocery stores have experienced similar changes. Years ago, they sold mainly rice, vegetables, spices and cooking equipment. Now about 25% of the floor space is dedicated to frozen or pre-packaged ready to eat Indian food. Simmer sauces don’t exist but premixed spice blends are popular. Just heat some oil, onion, tomato, and garlic then add the spice. Dinner is moments away. U.S.-based Indian grocery stores have apparently wildly embraced the concept of convenience foods. Patel Brothers in Irving, Texas has dedicated the entire back wall of the store (the wide side of the rectangle) to frozen foods and a whole aisle to ready to eat foods that just need to be heated. National Imports in Carrollton, Texas and Taj Mahal Imports in Richardson, Texas have also dedicated significant freezer space and entire aisles to these foods.


It sounds to me like Indian food in the U.S. has caught on but people in the U.S. don’t want to spend the time to prepare.  Just heat for 90 seconds and enjoy!


I will be traveling to India in a few months and will check out to see if the same changes have occurred in the stores there. Has the “cook it from scratch is best” mentality changed? Stay tuned.


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As soon as I walked into one of my local Indian groceries last week, the first thing I noticed was all of the signs advertising sales on almost all of the packaged products it carried like prepared meals, soap, kitchen items, spices, etc.  Signs were everywhere with discounts between 10 and 50%.  This store also had a small display of the small lamps called diyas that are lit during the festival. These are part of the tradition of preparing for Deepavali.  Since this is the biggest Indian festival of the year, people and retailers have fun getting ready for it.


The second store was just the opposite.  Upon entering the store, a huge table was piled with a wide variety of diyas.  From tiny plain ones (about an inch long) made out of clay to larger ones (about 4 inches long) that were also made out of clay.  Most of the larger ones were painted in bright primary colors and had gold accents.  Others were brass and copper.  Some were permanently attached to trays so they could easily be moved without worrying about spilling the oil.  My mother-in-law and I spent about 20 minutes trying to decide which one to buy since I am planning on posting a picture of one with my next blog entry.  Since we couldn’t decide, I bought both a large copper tray with the attached diyas and a package of the small plain clay lamps.  What fun we had that day!

 

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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.

National Imports in Carrollton, TX

National Imports in Carrollton, TX

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 halwaI 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.

National Imports in Carrollton, TX

National Imports in Carrollton, TX

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.

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

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