What’s in store
When you shop here, you might recognize lots of familiar faces from the workers and patrons of stellar nearby Indian buffets like Reethika, Dakshin and Amul. You’ll also see lasts-for-months-huge sacks of great-priced basmati rice plus zillions of spices along with some of the most exotic produce in town. So sure, there are about five kinds of mangoes and eggplants, but also haldi amba (raw turmeric root), tindora (tiny watermelon-like ivy gourds), suran (“elephant foot yam”) and so on. While this arcane vegetation is fun to contemplate and play with in the kitchen, Patel offers shelves and shelves of wonderful, restaurant-quality stuff you can eat immediately.
Patel’s stunning inventory of high-quality, quick-mix, heat-and-eat, frozen and convenience foods is a no-fuss-oriented Indian cuisine lover’s dream come true. So if you dig dal, saag paneer, chana masala and/or any tandoori-style flatbreads, but don’t feel like slaving away in the kitchen, this is your place. There’s also a ton of irresistible biscuits and cookies plus highly recommended savory, spicy and crunchy, sold in-bulk chaat-style (Indian street food) snacks.
· Punjabi Masala Special Papad ($2.50; look for the red bunny): Light, thin, brittle and addictive flavor-bomb discs; lay them between paper towels and nuke for a minute or two — i.e. until they just change color.
· Coriander Chutney ($3 for jar of Swad brand): Explosive, spicy-hot, flavor-spectrum-spanning cilantro “relish” that’d be good on shoestrings — but try it first with the papadum.
· Pani Puri ($4 for a huge, Haldiram’s brand “boxed set”): These crispy, spicy and sweet chaat cups might be an acquired taste, but they’re undeniably fun and translate into a lotta attention-grabbing snacks for a tiny price. Hint: Don’t soak the boondi.
· Hot Madras Curry Powder ($3.50 for Rajah brand): For instantaneous tongue-tingling flavor that actually won’t singe taste buds, sprinkle this on lentils, beans, stews, soups and/or to-be-grilled meats and veggies.
· Kala Jamun ($6): Darker, toastier and better than many versions of gulab jamun I’ve eaten in restaurants; heat for 10-20 seconds in the microwave.