Thursday, May 28, 2009

Food Cravings in Columbia

Columbia's two Indian groceries are paired just off Rte 108 where Desi Market and Food Cravings sit a few blocks apart in little commercial centers on Red Branch Road.

These Indian markets are essential if you want to cook Indian food, and they're helpful for almost any kitchen adventure because they sell spices by the bag. A bag for the same price that supermarkets charge for one-ounce bottles. Pepper, cumin, cloves, coriander, cardamom. These flavors have spread from Monterrey to Bangkok, and Food Cravings offers them all -- along with tumeric, fennel, and other flavors from around the world.

If you haven't visited an Indian grocery before, I'd suggest getting a cookbook -- maybe a beautiful one like Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Starting with Indian food will ensure that your trip leads to at least one great meal for you. Pick a recipe. Then go to Food Cravings and ask for help. Everyone speaks English, and all the clerks -- especially women -- have seemed tickled to help me find ingredients once they realize that I'm interested in Indian food. You'll fill a basket with staples like chick pea flour, yogurt, rices, chutneys, oils, and shelves of different lentils. Like the spices, the lentils are a flexible basic -- great in Indian cuisine, but also easy to use in plain old American recipes. The one thing missing from most Indian groceries is meat, which I assume is a way that these store owners respect their vegetarian clients.

Fill out your meal with some quick-eat items. Appetizers like papad or frozen samosas that you can heat yourself. Breads like frozen naan or roti. Jars of pickled vegetables or fruit. With these, you can create a feast if you learn a single recipe from your cookbook. Or you can just buy the convenience food, which ranges -- like any American grocery -- along a spectrum from "super easy" to "almost from scratch." At the "Lean Cuisine" end of that spectrum, there are boxes of curries already-cooked and just waiting for you to microwave. They're great for lunches at the office. One step more complex, there are jars of curry sauces to simmer chicken and box mixes so that you could turn out jalebi like you make a Dunkin Hines cake. There are also little basics that you could sprinkle into everyday life like the papad for a snack, Indian pickles that go great with burgers, or the candy-coated fennel seeds that I love but Mrs. HowChow won't touch outside House of India. I bought chickpea flour on my last visit to make a Korean pancake recipe that Mark Bittman had adapted for How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

More than Desi Market, Food Cravings has produce. Nothing looks spectacular, but it is there as a resource. There are also samosas for less than $1 at the checkout. They're not hot. I had bought one as a quick snack, and I didn't realize it was cold until I had already bitten inside. It would have been tasty if I had taken it home to heat it up. (Of course, I ate it anyway.)

Like I all of Howard County's ethnic markets, Food Cravings offers easy, safe adventures. You can ask questions in English. You can read the ingredient list on every package. At Indian joints, you can know most everything is vegetarian as well. If you like to cook, these are fun places to browse. They're just hidden away.

In May 2009, Food Cravings may be opening a new branch near the Food Lion on Rte 108 in Elkridge, according to an email that I received from from the Pizza Blogger.

Does anyone know the difference -- if there is one -- between Desi Market and Food Cravings? Indian cuisine is as varied as as European, and I have only the basic knowledge from friends, restaurants and Wikipedia. To my eye, Desi Market and Food Cravings appear to offer very similar fare -- with Food Craving offering a larger selection. I wonder if there is a difference that I can't discern.

If you are looking for Indian shopping in southern Howard County, consider Apna Bazar or Eastern Market in Laurel. Apna is farther north, but Eastern is bigger and has unusually good produce for a small market. If you are looking for Indian restaurants, click here.

Food Cravings
9050 Red Branch Road #N
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Red Branch Road intersects with Rte 108 just east of Rte 29. It is a commercial road. Desi Bazar is on the right facing the road. Food Cravings is farther up on the left. It is hard to see from the road because the buildings are set above Red Branch, so watch the street numbers. You need to park in the back or in the few spots on the driveway up to the building.

1 comment:

Sara said...

P.S. I love your blog!