Opened in 1981 when Sunset Park was home to a large Indian community, Patel Grocery remains popular with the now-smaller Indian population, as well as with the many other communities live in the neighborhood: Americans as well as Pakistani, Chinese, and Mexican immigrants.
If you're in the mood for an unusual crunchy snack, Patel's got you covered: they offer all sorts of chaat fixings, as well as fried, spiced chickpeas, mung beans, and peanuts.
Some more alternatives to the common chip: plain and cumin-dusted snack crackers, as well as fried papadum strips; ganthia, a Gujarati specialty made of fried strips of besan, or chickpea flour; and tum tum, churro-shaped snacks also made of besan.
Spice Blends Galore
In addition to whole and ground spices, Patel stocks a huge variety of spice blends. Know what kind of Indian dish you'd like to make, but not ready to commit to 6 or 7 different packages of spices? Locate the spice blend, pick up any necessary produce, and follow the instructions on the back of the packet: it's that easy.
Almost an entire aisle of Patel Grocery is devoted to pickled fruits and vegetables of all kinds. Here, two types of mango pickle, and a sweet lime pickle.
Love or hate it, bitter melon is an important ingredient in Indian cuisine.
Also known as loofah—yes, that thing you exfoliate with in the shower—is the overgrown, dried version of this fruit. In northern India, Chinese okra is known as turai, and is commonly integrated into bean stews.
What's homemade Indian food without curry leaves? Frozen curry leaves are alright, but Patel has a plentiful supply of fresh ones.
Tamarind is another essential Indian ingredient. Patel offers several types of paste, a purée and concentrate of the tart, yet sweet, fruit.
Rice, Rice and More Rice
Multiple brands and varieties of the staple grain, in bags and containers ranging from a few servings up to 50 pounds.
Americans might be used to flours milled from grains—wheat, rye, and corn—but in India, flour is just as often made from finely ground legumes. Here, Patel offers, from left, besan, chickpea flour; handva, lentil and rice flour; as well as jewar, sorghum flour.
Speaking of unusual grains, samo are the seeds of a grass that grows in a paddy, like rice. Easy to digest, they're commonly prepared with simple flavors and eaten at the end of fasting periods.
A firm, mild cheese, paneer is often cubed and fried—becoming crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside—and combined with curried vegetables like spinach or chickpeas.
Usually made with lentil or chickpea flour, papadum are sold soft and pliable but served fried and crisp, to be dipped into chutneys and pickles at the beginning (or sometimes the end) of a meal.
Crates and Crates of Mangoes
Mangoes are a prized fruit in India—and at Patel Grocery, where they stock them by the crate.
Mangoes also find their way into some desserts in the freezer case: ice cream and kulfi. Other intriguing flavors: pistachio and cashew-raisin.
Heat and Eat
Though it clearly caters to the home cook, Patel also makes some concessions to the harried eater, offering a wide variety of heat and eat entrées like mixed vegetable curry, tamarind and pigeon pea stew, and paneer tikka masala.
According to Ishwer Patel, the store's owner, Patel's selection of frozen foods is extremely popular with its customers. "People often stop in on their way home from work to pick up dinner," he said.
If you like Indian sweets but have never attempted to make them because they seem so complicated, the Gits brand line of dessert mixes might help you out. From left, mixes for pakora (actually a savory item, it's a batter for coating vegetables that are then fried); gulab jamun, Indian doughnuts soaked in sugar or honey syrup; and jilebi, a type of fritter soaked in syrup.