Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Saraga International Grocery

I'm in love! Seriously. I love this grocery store. And if you claim to be a foodie or cook and haven't tried it yet, you've been criminally negligent to your craft. Tucked way back by HH Gregg in the shopping center on 38th Street just east of Lafayette Rd, this Wal-Mart sized store is painfully unpretentious. All you'll see out front are some banged up carts and a big sign that says "Supermercado". Don't be deceived. Beauty is only skin deep. It's what's inside that counts.

Inside it delivers. 90% of everything you find in this store is a) Asian or Latin American and b) not labeled in English. Don't worry about it. Embrace it. (And a trick? The grocery store markers with the prices affixed to the shelves almost all have the English translation of the product.) Upfront, you'll find a small selection of random Mexican and Japanese beers and a few sakes and while not as expensively presented as Marsh, you'll find an amazing array of produce. (No automatic sprayers here, thank goodness.) Get ready to stock up on those items you can't find at any shi-shi "gourmet" markets in town -- fresh galangal root, arrowroot, shiso leaves, Thai basil, lychees, peppers galore, along with spice mixes and packaged dried spices only found in the best Mexican groceries. (I left with a huge bag of dried mango slices. Yum!) And don't expect Wild Oats or Trader Joe's prices either. This place is priced for people who actually cook.

In the enormous frozen food section, your real fun begins. Imagine every type of every brand of Asian noodle, bean curd, paste, wrapper, rice buns, sticky buns all in one place and you'll have the frozen food aisles at Saraga. My take home? A couple of bags of pho and noodle soup kits and a couple of boxes of pork buns -- two brands to see which I like better. After your head is about to explode with the Asian frozens, buckle in because you're not even a quarter of the way through this monster. Next up? Drinks and refrigerated drinks -- all kinds, all flavors, all fruits, and from all countries. What's fun about this store is you'll find Jumex Guava next to a Korean guava drink all in one place. Add Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai and you've got a party. After drinks? You'll have to hit the 20 aisles of packaged foods, coffees, teas, snacks, canned goods, and more freezer spaces. I even ran across hard to find American imports like Cafe Du Mond *chicory* coffee (not the stuff they sell at Marsh for tourists). Amazing.

But wait, there's more! Did I mention the fish market with at least 25 different kinds of fresh, whole fish? At good prices? There were *three* kinds of mackerel alone. Massive piles of fish on ice just waiting to be pan fried and sauced. Once I processed the fish department, there was one more jewel awaiting -- a Mexican bakery. I mean the *real* *deal* Mexican bakery. I saw breads and rolls there I've never seen in the US. Fantastic.

So, is it as spiffy and clean as an upscale grocery store with demos and neatly labeled shelf-talkers? No way. And even better, it's not crowded with looky-lous and amateurs piling cases of Two-Buck Chuck into their carts on Saturdays. I've lived in a lot of places in the US with large international populations and I've *never* seen anything this big. Over at Scott Hutchinson's blog in December when he mentioned Saraga, several readers were asking how it compared to Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati. I'd say there's just no way to compare the two -- they're totally different animals. From an international food perspective, this place has 500% more inventory that Jungle Jim's -- but for the Asian and Latin markets. You won't even find much for Indian cooks. Jungle Jim's is like the Epcot of grocery stores and has imports from all over the world with a heavy emphasis on the gourmet. Saraga also doesn't have a lot of American staples making it a tough place to cover all your grocery basics. (But that's OK, there's a Meijer just up the street.)

So go. Go now. Explore, look, learn. Prepare to be overwhelmed. It will take me a year to keep trying all the things I want to try. (Oh, man, I'll bet they have real dulche du leche there.) It's incredible. Bonus, they even have a spiffy website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks much for the info - I am happy to learn about fresh fish markets in Indy - there seems to be a lack of these!