Thursday, June 12, 2008

Secret Tip

Here's one of my favorite food shopping secrets - if you want to buy more things in bulk, but don't have a bulk food store in your area, check out ethnic grocery stores in your area. In the past, I've had good luck with Indian grocery stores here in CA as well as in NH with a sort of hybrid North African / Lebanese / Indian store.

These stores can be a great source for things like dried beans, lentils, nuts, and spices. Although they will probably not be from a bulk bin, they will likely be in a much larger package than what you are used to finding in the grocery store. Larger packages mean a reduction in total waste. For example, I spent about $8 for a bottle of ground cumin in the grocery store a few years back. I found it at the Indian grocery store, in a bag with probably five to ten times the quantity of cumin, for about $3. You'll have to supply your own pretty bottles for storage, but just reuse one next time you run out of something.

Other things I buy at my local Indian grocery store, Kumud, include turmeric, cumin seeds, whole coriander, ground coriander, cinnamon sticks, cloves, whole black pepper, red chili powder, sesame seeds, peanuts, cashews, and fennel seeds.

Make sure to do your homework first, though. I find that prices on dried beans actually tend to be cheaper at my local Whole Foods, and the organic option doesn't exist at Kumud. The other thing that is helpful to know is if the item you are looking for, especially if it is something like lentils, has more than one name as things are often labelled as something you might not be expecting - urad dal, black gram, and minapa pappu, for example, are all the same thing, so if you're using a recipe that calls for something that's new to you, do a quick search to see if it's known by any other name.

It's also fun to poke around and see what they have for sale that might be new to you. For example, I found a packet of pre-mixed spices for tea (tea masala). Before, when I had wanted an authentic masala tea, I'd roast cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon, then grind them all together (meaning I almost never actually made it!). Now I can buy it all ready to go - this is one of my favorite finds, but there have been lots of others.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help! Whenever I go into Kumud, the same five or six people are working there. After I had shopped there a few times, they remembered me and are always more than happy to help me with any questions I have, as is very often the case with small business owners and employees.

All around, it's a great option! I save money, save on packaging, find foods I've never tried before, and I get to support a store that's not a huge national chain.


Heather @ SGF said...

What a great idea. I know we have some oriental grocery stores here, but I've never set foot in one (well, I did when I was visiting China but that doesn't count). Even if I didn't buy anything, it would be a fun and different experience and who knows what goodies I could find. Hmmm....

Green Bean said...

I've heard this from a number of friends and, yet, always seem to forget. Thanks for the reminder.

Verde said...

I love the smells of those stores. When we lived in TN, there was the biggest multi-ethnic store I'd ever seen. We used to go there with the kids and pretend we'd been on vacation to an exotic country.

arduous said...

I like Kumud. They have everything. Including a good selection of Bollywood DVDs.

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