Hilltop Indian grocer's wares more than usual fare

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 15, 2007 - 9:01 PM

A family expanded their business here because they felt they could beat the competition in price, variety and customer service.

Nayana Ramakrishnan, of New Brighton, scooped some Indian snacks from a bulk-foods bin while shopping at newly opened Pooja Grocers International Foods in Hilltop.

Photo: Maria Baca, Star Tribune

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Fans of Indian and south Asian cuisine have another resource in Pooja Grocers International Foods, which opened this fall in Central Plaza in Hilltop, joining a handful of other ethnic grocers in the area.

Anil Patel and his nephew, Brijesh Patel, come from a Schaumburg, Ill.-based grocer family originally from Gujarat, in northern India; family members own 40 similar stores across the United States.

They attended a relative's house-warming party in the Twin Cities over the summer, and determined that they could beat some of the local Indian grocers in price, customer service and variety, said Anil Patel's son, Dipan Patel, who also works at the store.

Business so far has been better than they'd expected, "especially the first day," Dipan Patel said of their Sept. 29 opening.

Their customers include not just East Indian people, but also Chinese, Malaysians, African-Americans and others, he said.

The brightly lit, colorful store has a long row of produce, including things like karela, or bitter melon; methi, or fenugreek; and dhana, better known as cilantro. Most of the produce has been shipped in from Florida.

There's a 20-yard-long display of rice: basmati, ponni raw, kerala kuthari, sona masoori.

On the other side are a variety of flours, from India and Canada, plus bulk and pre-packaged Indian snacks from Chicago and India. Some of the most popular are ganthiya, crunchy sticks made from spiced chickpea flour, and checkkalu, hot-spicy cakes made from rice flour.

There are rows of spices and bulk nuts, lentils, peas and beans, and several off-the-shelf options for ready-to-heat meals, many imported from India or Pakistan. Brijesh Patel recommended MTR brand jeera (cumin) rice and Super Kohinoor brand Peshawari dal makhani, a dish of lentils in a tomato sauce.

A long freezer has vegetables, more premade meals, frozen naan (an Indian flatbread) and Indian-flavored ice cream, in pista kulfi, or pistachio, and mulai, or dulce de leche. Another refrigerated case holds sweets, cheeses and drinks.

There are a few twists on traditional American foods, such as Indian-spiced potato chips and Indian Fanta orange drink.

The grocery also has a selection of Indian cinema DVDs and music CDs for sale, and imported cosmetics.

About 80 percent of their merchandise comes from India, said Dipan Patel. Another 10 percent comes from Pakistan and the rest is made in the United States and Canada.

For the uninitiated, the grocery also stocks cookbooks. Co-owner Brijesh Patel recommended "Kohinoor of Rice and Spice," by Rocky Mohan.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

  • Pooja Grocers International foods Open 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily. 855 45th Av. NE., Hilltop 763-571-1899
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