My slightly-terrifying trip to the Indian grocery store

Well, there is one thing for sure about the Instant Pot — and that is how it has opened up the door for me to try new and slightly-scary things.

The latest new and slightly-scary thing that I shall next be attempting in my kitchen: Indian food far beyond my extremely limited vocabulary of “chicken tikka masala”, “butter chicken”, “basmati rice”, and “garlic naan”. (Mmmmmm… garrrrrlllllliiiiiiiiic nnnnnnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnn……)

This decision ultimately required a trip to a specialty Indian grocery store. To say that I was completely deer-in-the-headlights once I walked through the doors would be an understatement….

So Urvashi’s new cookbook came out on Kindle this week! (Here’s the Amazon link for it.)

I loaded it up on all my devices, and picked out some of the less-scary potentially-yummy-sounding things for me to hopefully not completely butcher this weekend — and off to the store I went on Friday night after work.  As could be expected, I didn’t find everything I needed in the standard grocery store. (I thought the “ethnic foods” aisle was pretty extensive… but I guess not.)

Fortunately some Googling revealed an Indian grocery store two towns south of me! On Saturday afternoon I called first — just to make sure they still existed and were at the location that Yelp said they were. (Especially since stalking via Google Street View did not help me decipher the mystery!)

Phew! A lady answered, and through her accent I deciphered what sounded like the name of the store. She confirmed the intersection, and the name of the Mexican restaurant across the street that I could use as a landmark — and off I went, notebook in hand.

I found the landmark right away and made the required sharp last minute almost-passed-it turn into the driveway of my destination.

It is located in one of those little tiny triangle-corners of otherwise useless real estate — smashed in with a bunch of other tiny little businesses, in a tiny little can-it-really-even-qualify-as-a-strip-mall, with a crowded tiny little 15-car parking lot.

Amusingly enough, as I was realizing the necessity of that sharp last minute turn into the driveway — the vehicle in front of me was doing the exact same thing.  Fortunately, (a) I didn’t rear-end him, and (b) there were two tiny parking spots available, right at that moment, in that teensy little parking lot.

Double-amusingly enough, we were both going to the same place! This turned out to be a good thing — because, while he was being helped, I had some time to semi-discretely just stand there like a deer caught in headlights. (Holy shit what have I gotten myself into?!!??)

The front half of this is flours, the back half is dals.

But — I was armed with my notebook, where I’d madly scribbled all sorts of important random pieces of information dug out of the cookbook and out of the supplemental PDF from the “Lots of Lovely Lentils” video. (“Sabut” = whole; “Chilka” = with skin; “Duli” = Skinless; “Safed” = white….)

Once the initial panic subsided a little, I was able to find — from among the GIANT supply of dals of all colors — the Whole Black Urad Dal that is needed for the Dal Makhani recipe.

Whoops, sorry about the glare!

Next, I needed chickpea flour for the Marthi Kadhi. When I asked about it on the phone, the lady said “Besan” — a word I remembered hearing Urvashi say in one of her videos — and soon after locating the Urad Dal, I was able to find Besan.

And right next to it — Ladu Besan.

Weeeeeelllll shit. Now what?

Both bags had “subtitles” that may or may not have been in Spanish (the word “de” was involved in the middle of the phrase) with an ending word that I assumed translated to “chickpea” (Farine de Pois Chiche). [[ Edited to add: Multiple independent sources have now verified that it is, in fact, French. I’m Californian — anything with “de” in the middle of it is Spanish until proven otherwise. 😉 ]]

Annnnd…. both subtitles were identical — which was therefore zero help.

Since the lady running the store was still helping the dude who entered ahead of me, I just stood there like a fool (for what felt like for-ev-er) comparing color and texture, trying to figure out any potential difference between the two.

I eventually concluded that there was, in fact, no visual difference… so moved on to other things.


Then — I found the spices section.

The spices section!



Giant bags of Black Mustard Seeds… Sesame Seeds… Garam Masala… and tons of other things for just $2.99 — we’re talking 7oz and 8oz bags here!

Click to zoom!! (Opens in new tab)

Eventually the shop lady finished checking out the guy who entered ahead of me, and then was available to help me with my final selection — she informed me that the Ladu Besan was for sweet dishes, so I chose the regular Besan and took my basket up for her to check me out.  Once she saw the other things I was getting, she asked if I was the one who had called earlier, so I confirmed yes indeed.

She asked what I was going to use the chickpea flour (Besan) for, and I clumsily attempted to pronounce “Marthi Kadhi” — and apparently did a half-assed enough job on it that she at least pretended to understand what I said.

When she saw my madly scribbled notebook with random hindi words (see above) in it, she asked what else I was making, and I did a slightly better job of attempting to pronounce “Dal Makhani”.

She asked me if I already had {*something I couldn’t decipher — but sounded like the word “red” was involved*}. And when I looked confused, she said what I think was along the lines of “it’s another lentil usually used in Dal Makhani“.

So then I panicked that I’d missed putting something on my grocery list! At which point I whipped out my phone, fired up the Kindle app, and opened up the recipe right then and there and read the ingredients list aloud.

She then looked perplexed and hrrrmmmm’d and repeated that {*whatever it was she said before that maybe had the word “red” in it*} is typically also used.

At that point a light bulb went off over my head…

Oh!!!” says I, “She writes her recipes for people like ME! She makes them so they are not-as-scary!

(Hint: The only way I could be more-white would be if I were blonde instead of brunette.)

And we both had a good laugh while she nodded in feigned understanding about this whole not-as-scary Indian recipes concept.

I patted the bag of Black Urad Dal on the counter, and quietly confided “this is the closest I’ve ever been to a lentil in my life. I’m terrified!“, which earned another laugh from her.

Do you need a bag?” she asks, as she gestures to a pole holding what looked like plastic bags.

I live in California, people. Single-use plastic bags are a big no-no. (They could have been multi-use, and probably were now that I think about it, but I was already so overwhelmed at that point my brain wasn’t working all that well.)

I’d left my reusable bags at home — because my hot-mess brain didn’t register that I was going to a store to buy things — and mindlessly told her that I’d just stuff it all in my purse.

She continues checking me out, and asks what else I’m making, gesturing towards my notebook.

I flipped through the pages and read from my list: Masale Bhat, Dal Makhani, Kheema Matar….

She interrupts to ask “with spinach?” and say that no, I think that’s the Kheema Narijal Sang — if I’m deciphering my notes correctly. She affirms, and wishes me luck with it all, as she finishes the transaction and hands me the receipt.

I laugh and tell her that I’m pretty sure I’m in over my head — then I go on to drive that point home by attempting to clumsily stuff into my not-really-all-that-large purse a 2 pound bag of chickpea flour, a 2 pound bag of urad dal, a giant bag of green cardamon seeds, a big glass jar of tamarind paste, and a giant plastic jar of ghee (sorry Urvashi, I chickened out on making my own right now).

All of which cost me a whopping $26.45 for the whole fell swoop.

Once we assessed the structural integrity of my wrong-tool-for-the-job purse full of groceries — and that I was self-contained enough to make it to the car without dropping everything all over the parking lot — she wished me luck one last time, and I promised that if all goes will with this that I’d be back again for more supplies.

Then off I went!


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  • Connie Richardson and your dumpster have been missed. Can’t wait to hear the results. I am not that brave yet.

    • Jen Neefer

      Awww. It’s nice to be missed! <3 🙂

      I just posted a picture of the first outcome in the main IP group. And I will hopefully get a blog post out of it sometime tomorrow -- I took plenty of photos -- but it just takes soooo darn long to write-up.

      (Which is why I disappeared for a few months. Every time I sat down to type something up, it got overwhelming with all the time ticking away and it still not being done. I have a ton of partially finished drafts all over the place!)

  • Mary

    You are an absolute hoot! I laughed til I cried when I read this…cuz I’m the old gray haired lady equivalent deer in a headlight when I get in an ethnic store. I want everything, can’t pronounce anything and haven’t a clue what I’ll make when I get home. Thank you for a delightful adventure!

    • Jen Neefer

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      (I was worried this one was going to be super boring compared to some of the previous “big hits” that seem to have set expectations pretty darn high for anything I’ve written out since!)

  • Nancy

    Farine de Pois Chiche is French. Farine is flour.
    Good luck with the recipes.
    I go to ethnic food stores and buy random bags of things – mostly snack foods. It’s always an adventure.

  • Beth

    I’m hoping your blog doesn’t think I’m a bot–it thought I was earlier…. Anyhoo, I’m not a bot, don’t even play one on TV. Your trip to the Indian grocery reminds me of how I felt when I went into my first Asian grocery. Me, the person who lived in a small town my entire life and had no idea there was such a thing as an ethnic grocery store until I moved out of the house and into a much larger town. My first trip to an Indian grocery store was purely by accident. I had placed a take out order from a local Indian restaurant and it wasn’t quite ready so I ended up browsing their grocery store while I was waiting. I am anxiously awaiting your results!

  • I’m so delighted to hear of your bravery! It will pay off in teaspoons and platefuls of flavor. Besides, now we all get to read of your adventures in cooking and enjoy them, so that’s a total Win-Win!

  • Melissa Sharma

    Way to funny! Reminds me the first time I was in a local Indian store. I was the blonde, blue eye, pale as can be white chick looking at Bollywood movies with wide eyes. The spices and stuff I did just fine with. Now years later and part of a big Indian family I still amazed at the big Petal brothers stores in Chicago. It’s a India food heaven. Thanks for the laughs.

  • Bill

    I’m sure I would have been more deer-in-the-headlights, Jen. I was that way yesterday when I went to the one Indian market on Old Red.

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