Grocery Store Comfort

My mom has been in town for a few weeks.  She’s very Indian and very nostalgic.  She came to America in 73′ when she was 28 years old.  She definitely left a huge part of her heart in India.  Since my mom loves a good Indian grocery store (as do I — I have a HUGE love of grocery stores, especially of the ethnic variety), I decided to take her to India Sweets & Spices in Los Feliz, one of the biggest Indian grocery stores in SOCAL.  We walk in and there’s that smell — of food, spices, incense, and a miscellaneous scent that is not exactly pleasant, but not entirely offensive.  There’s something deeply comforting about it all, especially doing this with my mom.  She’s in her element and commands the aisles.  Plus, she’s a huge haggler and feels like she can get away with it in a setting like this.  For example, she picks up two heads of cauliflower at $1.50 each, but when we get to the register they ring up at $1.50 per pound.  This is shocking and unacceptable to my mom.  She repeats the information as if he’ll reduce the price and give her a special deal. He doesn’t give in and neither does she, even though I say to just buy it because…well, just because.  Nope, she makes him take if off the bill.  I enjoy watching my mom do her thing, even though it used to bother me.  After buying a few things that did meet her standard, we decided to eat lunch in the store’s restaurant.  There is zero ambiance, but again, something comforting in the straightforwardness of it all. Maybe it’s because I’ve been to so many of these types of restaurants growing up.  Order at the counter and then go sit at the most basic of tables and chairs.  This particular establishment serves both North and South Indian food, it’s super cheap and some dishes were much tastier than others.  My fave was the papdi chat, which is basically fried crispy bread topped with a variety of chutneys, chickpeas, yogurt, and cilantro.  It’s cold, saucy, spicy, sweet, crunchy, and refreshing.  I would definitely recommend it if you’re on that side of town.  Or if it’s a holiday like President’s Day when the the drive from somewhere like Westchester (no, not in New York but close to LAX) to Los Feliz is only about an invigorating and atypical, done-before-you-know-it 20 minutes.  We ate for about 13 bucks and were stuffed.

My favorite part of the trip is the paan, a betel nut leaf stuffed with rose petal preserves, candy coated fennel seeds, and other unknown (by me) spices. It’s like an after dinner mint, but heartier and chewier. It also helps with digestion, which is what I tell myself when I feel guilty for all the sticky sweet sugaryness of it.  It’s hard to find so when I see it I get very excited and the salivating begins. Ernie has a strong dislike for it and thinks it tastes like perfume.  It’s comforting because it takes me back to roadside paan stands in India, but most of all it reminds me of my dad.  He’s always loved paan and even used it make it at home from his betel nut vine.  At the end of the day I realized that I love having a 2nd culture to fall back on.  It’s like having another layer of comfort in this big world.