If you’re new to South Asian cooking, it’s essential to buy some things in an Indian grocery. Please, please, please, DON’T EVER buy “spices” in the spice aisle of the local grocery store. THEY JUST DON”T CUT IT.
Exploring a new cuisine can be a little intimidating when you don’t know what to buy and nothing looks familiar. I’ve learned lots from asking family to give me a tour and show me what is worth buying. I cook mostly Sri Lankan food, so I’ve learned to shop Indian grocery stores through that lens (not many Sri Lankan groceries stores around here, darnit!).
Here’s my recommendations of essentials for the newbie South Asian cook:
- Curry powder
- Chile powder
- Mustard Seed
- Basmati rice (Uncle Ben’s just won’t cut it with South Asian food!)
- Pre-made spice packets: You can buy a variety of these to try different dishes. Purists will scoff, but when you’re learning, they’re probably better than what you can make on your own, and they’re quick! My favorite brand is Parampara. Butter chicken (chicken makhani) is a great dish to start out with.
- Red lentils
- Breads (in the frozen section): I’ve never eaten an indian bread I didn’t love. While I have made it from scratch, it’s WAY easier (and honestly, tastier) to buy. Our all-time favorite are the Swad Malaysian parathas, but I’m nearly as happy with naan or chapati. I have yet to master making poori well, but I’m not a very good fry-er either.
- Treat: if there are fresh samosas, but all means, buy at least 5 (for yourself). Yuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmy!
Cook-friends, help me out here. Am I missing something big? Any crucial items that other South Asian countries would include that are not here?