There it was, the largest International Store in Indianapolis and I was visiting a gal friend in the city I'd lived in for 8 years before getting married. We'd talked about doing an expedition here on one of the weekend "Girls Day Out" (as my gal friend T. said -- "They have Lebanese TV dinners!"), so it seemed like a possibly fun outing. The most exotic shopping I've done this month was buying some Rotel to ship to Hailey and Zaphod's Mom in Canada where they can't buy it. (seriously Canadians Google "King Ranch Chicken" - you are so missing out).
Saraga International Market. It's in an old K Mart, to give you an idea of how BIG it was. I don't have pictures as it's not in the best part of town, and I didn't want to be strolling through the parking lot with $4000 worth of camera dangling off of me. It's not an area I'd be afraid to go in the daytime but I didn't want to be obvious about an expensive toy. The cars in the lot in the early morning were all new, late models, while the local foodies and some snappily dressed retirees from all over town, came in to get the best values while the rest of the world was still sleeping in or heading off to work. There are also two other locations in the area, but this one was the original off of 38th and Lafayette.
But it was a pretty neat store, with food from ALL over the world, and very good prices. There was every kind of frozen and fresh fish in the world, some of which were the stuff of my particular nightmares (seriously, people eat that?) and all kinds of exotic" meat produce. Duck, Goose, lamb, international hooves of mystery and eels for my hovercraft!
I went mostly just see what they had. And I was seriously happy to find that they had black rice, a wonderfully filling and nutty treat higher in antioxidants than blueberries for 1/3 of the price of online (plus, it's hard to find). I also got several sizes of rice noodles, big packages, $1.69 a piece. (OK and the Maltesers and some Cadbury from the UK fell into the basket)
There was a lot of things I had never heard of, and I still am chuckling at the jar of Shito - which apparently is some sort of spicy sauce from Guana. (juvenile - yes, but I still laughed). And I don't want to know what Golden King "Grass Jelly Drink, Banana Flavor" tastes like (as I doubt it's banana.) But there were a lot of things I just had to get!
Do you purchase in bulk? There was more bulk beans and rice, of all KINDS and countries of origin, than I've ever seen. Fresh and dried spices as well and seriously cheaper than Costco and such places.
European food was somewhat limited, outside of teas and candy, though I did get a nice collection of English style biscuits which I like with my tea and they had some packaged German bread and condiments. But If you want exotic fruits, they have them. If you want the rarest variety of oriental noodles, they have a whole aisle of them (including some with some seriously creepy Japanese mascots). Want to make authentic Vietnamese or Thai Food? Everything you need is here. Have a hankering for Russian tea or some French coffee? There are ingredients to cook Middle Eastern, Indiana, Asian, Jamaican, Mexican, or South American or African, all under one roof and the cost for those items was 50-75% less than the "international" section at most supermarkets.
In Europe, I laugh at some "high-end gourmet" sections of their stores where the food from the US is displayed--Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Old El Paso taco seasoning, Newman's Own Salad Dressing and B & M Baked Beans. Finland thinks we live on Pop Tarts, Jello, and Reeses Puffs cereal, and in just about every language thinks thatFluff, apparently, is America's Favorite food. Fluff? Conversely, I can imagine someone from some exotic corner of the world, wandering the aisle here and saying "seriously, they think we eat nothing but cephalopod-flavored potato chips?"
The food is lined up mostly by country or area of origin so you might find rice in 6 different aisles, which can be confusing, but it was fun to look and they even had a little bakery up front where you could get some freshly made flan to go. That's almost as good as my Mom's recipe for Rosettes. (Insert Homer Simpson voice here saying Flannnnnnn....).
The only detractor is you have to sort of hunt for things, and the floor looked like it needed a good cleaning. However the ladies restroom was spotlessly and recently clean, which is a good sign It's probably hard to keep the rest of it up, with all the pallets and boxes constantly on the move as they buy in bulk. While we wandered we saw a lot of such activity, as the employees worked hard to keep everything well stocked.
In line at the check stand, was a very nice young couple from Nigeria, buying a huge bag of Nigerian Rice, a BUNCH of red peppers and tomatoes, shanks of meat of some sort, dried beans and some beautiful looking melon. As "foodies" tend to do - we were chatting about what we were going to make with our purchases. The wife was going to prepare a tomato stew with the peppers, and then combine and cook that with the rice and beans with a bit of thyme, curry, bay leaf and a bullion cube and serve it with the meat braised with spices and melon for dessert. I thought that sounded wonderful.
Foodies - we know no cultural lines
Home with the goodies, it was time to see what sounded good for lunch.
Drunken Noodles -
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce (Red Boat is the best, avoid "Squid" brand fish sauce, which tastes as enticing as the name even if you could buy a case of it here for next to nothing).
1 1/2 teaspoons roasted red chili paste (or a dash of Sriracha)
3/4 teaspoon soy sauce sweetened with 1/4 teaspoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon honey
a pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into slivers
3/4 cup assorted veggies (mine had thinly sliced carrots, some green beans and a few water chestnuts, nuked until softened so they didn't take too long in the pan)
1/2 large jalapeño, seeded (depending on how spicy you like it) and finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 eggs whisked
1/3 pound thinly sliced meat or tofu.
1/2 of an onion thinly sliced
4 cups thick sliced rice noodles, soaked in warm water for about 10 minutes to soften.
1 cup fresh Thai basil, loosely chopped
In a bowl, mix stock, oyster sauce, fish sauce, chili paste, soy sauce, and honey, set aside.
In a wok or tall, high sided skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the red pepper, jalapeño, and garlic and stir fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes, then push it up along the edge where it's cooler. Add the egg mixture and scramble, breaking it up into small bits, pushing it up to the edge while it's still a little "wet". In a pan, cook meat and onion until the onion is softened and meat is partially cooked (1-2 minutes) adding a dash of red pepper if you like it nice and spicy. Add the noodles and veggies and stir-fry until it and the meat is cooked through (4-5 minutes) adding a couple tablespoons of water if the noodles are crisping up too much, Add the sauce and stir until incorporated, folding in the basil and stirring until wilted. Served with salad with honey mustard salad dressing (OK, not oriental, but Finland thinks we like it) and an egg roll with some sweet and sour sauce from a jar.