My 2009 Resolutions:
1. Refrain from, when in an unfamiliar neighborhood outside Manhattan, calling husband and saying, "We could live here. Totally. I love it!"
2. To consider not only my own health but that of Serious Eaters, and thus seek out foods that are not only delicious but healthy and low in fat. I'm not feeling terribly optimistic about any of this, however.
Resolution #1 fell by the wayside as soon as I stepped off the F train at Roosevelt Avenue and into the swirl of worlds that is Jackson Heights. I was surrounded by Bollywood stores, women in varying degrees of traditional Indian dress, and an astonishing number of jewelry and sari stores. The very streets seemed to shine with gold, turquoise, and pink.
My plan was to head straight to Patel Brothers, which I could see from the subway station. However, it took me well over an hour to get there. The first obstacle in my path appeared around the corner: the huge and imposing Pacific Supermarket. Like every food market in Jackson Heights I visited, the aisles were full not only of shoppers but the endless process of unloading produce and restocking shelves. Also standard were narrow aisles and extremely high ceilings. I searched the aisles for the increasingly elusive pizza-flavored Pretz without success, grabbed some canned rambutan and Malaysian date cookies, then headed through the crowded, colorful streets toward Patel Brothers.
And then I ran smack into Trade Fair. The first things I saw in the window were Corona beer and Quaker Oats, which didn't quite intrigue me. Once inside, however, I found a multiculti, higgledy-piggledy explosion of groceries, including tiny cans of Welch's grape juice drink, labeled "Welchito," soy feta in tomato sauce, and cumin with added seasoning, which later proved to be garlic. The global nature of Trade Fair extends to its exceptional beer selection.
Ahem. Patel Brothers. This nationwide Indian grocery chain's motto is: "Serving since 1974 bringing Motherland closer." And so they do. Forty-pound sacks of pulses and rice greet you in the first aisle, where you will also find stacks of pappadum. (Inexplicably--as I am surely the only blonde in the store--an older Muslim man asks me how to prepare them, and we do our best to find common linguistic ground. "Bread?" "More like crackers." "You eat like this?" "No, you must fry them." I really hope he didn't try to eat the pappadum as is. That way lies oral surgery.)
Another aisle is devoted to the widely known Deep Hot Mix, and other snacky foods, like Masala chips and Cornflake Mixture. I picked up a bag of Kurkure Tamatar, Hyderabadi Style (Tea-Time Value Pack), which have a Cheese Doodle-ish texture but taste of tomato (there is a variation called Naughty Tomato) and hot spices, all of which the bag assures me are natural, nature identical, and artificial.
Produce is both familiar and not: pearlescently fresh ginger, cilantro, jackfruit, lotus root. I plan on returning during mango season, when the imported Indian varieties (only recently allowed into the US) hit the store.
The bread aisle features the same brands of pita, naan, and such that you can get in any well-stocked corner greengrocer. Instead, head for the refrigerators on the perimeter for the real deal, including countless variations on chapati, like radish, ginger, and mint. The frozen breads include Pillsbury's Ready-to-Puff Roti, as well as puri, paratha, and naan. Indeed, the frozen food section itself is mind-bogglingly comprehensive, from frozen vegetables to entrees, even Chinese-Indian dishes. There is a line of frozen paneer (cheese) curries, as well as bags of plain paneer, bringing me to saag paneer.
Saag (spinach), could not be lower in calories nor higher in nutrition, and much has been said about the health benefits of chili peppers, garlic, and ginger, ingredients that also figure in the recipe. Not to mention a pound of yummy fried cheese. Check out my recipe to make it yourself.
And that's two resolutions broken in the first week of 2009. Happy New Year!
7501 Broadway, Elmhurst NY 11373 (at 75th Street; map) 718-507-8181
7507 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights NY 11372 (at 75th Street; map) 718-779-2077
37-27 74th Street, Queens, NY 11372 (b/n 37th Avenue and 37th Road; map) 718-898-3445
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.