Indian grocery stores can seem intimidating with all those strange spices, unfamiliar vegetables, sacks of grains, and smells of sandalwood, spices, and incense. Shopping in an Indian market is challenging, but with a little persistence and an open mind you will unearth a rich treasure chest of Indian ingredients. Experiment, explore, ask questions, taste, and try new things. Take your time and talk to the storeowners, who will be glad to assist you.
Wherever there are Indian people living, you will find Indian markets. Older, well-established ones tend to be run by second generation Indian American families. Newer stores may be owned by Pakistanis or recent immigrants from Bangladesh. In some large cities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco there are large Indian populations in "Little India's". Here you will find the most authentic and versatile grocery stores, from brightly lit spice bazaars to mega markets that glitter with stainless cookware, rows of canned goods, jars of pickles, containers of chutneys, and spice pastes, and glass cases filled with trays of chocolaty, syrupy sweets. These huge complexes stock wares from all over India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Crates overflow with gourds, plump eggplants, okra, and snowy white cauliflower heads. Bins are packed with root vegetables and piles of delicious mangoes. Huge burlap sacks are piled near the entrances, bulging with basmati rice, lentils, and split peas. Shelves are arranged in neat rows of small boxes of spice blends for everything from dal to chai. Some stores sell meals to go from deli counters, other offer savory deep fried snacks, tandoori tikkas, and kebabs wrapped in hot naan (leavened white bread enriched with yogurt, eggs, and butter.) Smaller shops might sell walnuts, dried plums, and green tea from Kashmir, or they might stock ingredients to make South Indian specialties, depending on the owner's place of origin or the predominant ethnic group in the local community.