Taj Mahal Imports: East Meets West, and the West is Very Happy
Try: Bombay Kitchen Masala Chickpeas from the snack aisle
Don't try: Heinz Salad Cream from the British foods aisle
Sure, Central Market and Whole Foods have frozen Chicken Tikka Masala Weight Watchers meals, and they have basmati rice and one or two jars of Indian sauces that they sell for 20 bucks a piece -- but you know what they don't have? Tit-Bit.
And finding stuff like Tit-Bit mints (a brand of candy-coated fennel seeds that I didn't really like, but had a fantastic time buying) is the reason that I love making trips to weird little grocery stores and markets like Taj Mahal Imports. I don't pretend to know the entire cultural significance or background of the stuff that I buy in these places, but I do know that it's super fun trying new cuisine with only a stock boy as my guide. Yay stock boys. I heart you.
I went to Taj Mahal Imports drooling over the idea of making chicken tikka masala for dinner. Most important, I was seeking delicious naan. (For my money, eating Indian food without good naan is like eating barbecue without also eating three whole loaves of Texas toast: pointless.) And let me tell you, "You, their freezer section did not disappoint." I spied three or four different brands of naan with a million flavors available, and after shedding a single tear of joy, I traded my basket for a cart.
And then I saw the frozen samosas. Commence my solo dance sequence to the Bollywood soundtrack playing over the speakers. Cart instantly gained 50 pounds.
For the sauce, I picked up a standard jar of Patak's Tikka Masala Curry (because I still haven't tracked down the perfect from-scratch recipe and also because I was feeling lazy) which they do have at Central Market. But, unlike the CM, Taj Mahal Imports has a wall full of other offerings from Patak's including korma, various chutneys and vindaloo. And, of course, they have other brands that I've never tried that are probably even more delicious.
If you're feeling so lazy that you want someone else to make your dinner for you, there's a kitchen in the back serving up some delicious-smelling stuff. When I was there, the line was really long, and I was too one-tracked on semi-homemaking tikka masala to check out what they were making back there, but I'll be back. I've heard the panipuri (which, according to Wiki is little doughnut hole-lookin' crispy bread filled with a chickpeas and other goodies) is exceptional.
Impulse buy: Walking down the snack aisle, I came across a bunch of stuff that looked way more tasty than the Cheetos Puffs I was gonna pick up at the Wallymart. (Which is a huge thing for me to say, as I heart me some puffs.) There were mini samosas in a bag (Did that say 440 calories each? Rad!) and lots of spicy puffed rice things. After much bag inspecting I decided my favorite logo was on the Bombay Kitchen Masala Chickpeas and bought those. Oh, I hear you judging me for my blind logo-based purchases, Internet Judger Who's Totally Gonna Comment. Like you've never bought a bottle of wine because it had a cool label. "Actually, you haven't?" Fine. Then, heed my alternate comment, which is: Suck one! I'm on a food quest! Choose your own damned food adventure!
Speaking of sucking one, you people should all take a moment and suck on a masala chickpea, because -- holy deliciousness -- these were fun to eat. I'd recommend them as a substitute for wasabi peas. Eat them with beer and watch your face melt off from spiciness. The flavor on these really seemed to build, but it never got to the uncomfortable my-intestines-are-about-to-breathe-fire-out-my-bellybutton level, which was nice.
There was so much intriguing stuff at this place that you just have to go discover for yourself. I mean, I didn't even get to talk about the amazing giant framed print of the dude on a flying horse, the 12-ounce snake gourd or the jar of Ashokarisht in the vitamin section that I presume you chug for a "healthy menstrual cycle."
The Basket (OK, so this time it was a cart): Tit-Bit fennel candy, Patak's Tikka Masala Curry, Patak's Korma Curry, Taj Vindaloo Curry Paste, 50 pounds of Kontos Onion Nan, Bombay Kitchen Masala Chickpeas.