One of the first ways I had to adapt when moving to India, was with buying cooking ingredients. I struggled with frustration at first, because I couldn’t find the things I wanted, so I had to start thinking like an Indian cook and forget about my old recipes and try new Indian ones. I had to learn how to cook real Indian food.
I’m still learning. And it helps too, that we have hired a cook. I will write more about that another day.
But even though we have a cook, I still want to keep cooking.
It has been a little over a month since we moved into our house and I started building the pantry. On my first shopping trip, I pretty much bought random things I thought would be used. Most of the stuff I bought that day has been used, so I did pretty well for random. Over the next weeks I made several trips to town (always accompanied by a male Indian friend), and started learning not only what to buy, but also where to buy it.
Now, I have built a very Indian pantry with a couple of my American kitchen staples.
Two things to note before I tell you about my pantry:
1. I have a lot of plastic containers which I don’t like and I wish to eventually replace them all with glass containers. Most were brought by our Indian friend and bought at the beginning when I didn’t know where to buy anything.
2. As I mentioned before, the pantry is mostly Indian, but with some non-Indian things.
Let me show you.
Top shelf from left to right: Quaker oats, rava (semolina), dal, atta (wheat flour), basmati rice, chickpeas, and groundnuts (peanuts). I think it is pretty obvious which one of these doesn’t belong.
Middle shelf (my favorite) from left to right: sugar, tea, extra virgin olive oil, olive oil, ghee (clarified butter), ginger powder (for tea), more tea, instant coffee, peanut butter, honey, almonds, ground peanuts, cashews, pistachios, and tamarind.
The obvious non-indian items are the olive oils and the peanut butter. (The instant coffee is part of many indian homes.) In fact, Indians were strong coffee drinkers until the time of the British Raj where the East India Company started promoting tea to Indians, because of income loss from the Chinese. Anyway…
I love nuts.
And I love that I can easily obtain them here. Tamarind is a fruit, but it is stored with the nuts in my house.
The bottom shelf is the spice shelf and where all the Indian cooking magic comes from: (left to right) amchoor (mango powder), groundnut oil, masala box (with haldi/turmeric, dhania/coriander powder, jeera/cumin seeds, garam masala, and mohori/mustard seeds), hing/asafetida, masala spices, more turmeric, chili powder, chutney mixes, keshar/saffron, methi/fenugreek seeds, elaichi/cardamom pods (not shown in picture), and well, a bag of addicting simply salted chips (completely out of place.)
Above is the other pantry in the kitchen, with more things than food.
Top shelf (the random shelf): toilet paper, mosquito repellent, cat food, chili lime chips, ensure, cereal, ground coffee, orange/coconut juice, and milk.
Below are several stainless steel containers, blender/mixer containers, glass pitcher, and tons of napkins (they were 3 for 2 and last time I wanted to buy napkins they were out, clearly not very common in Indian homes).
And on the bottom shelf: chopping board, toasted sesame seeds ready to be pulverized into homemade tahini, plastic and metal bowls, chapati board, mortar and pestle, and my nutribullet which I can’t use until I find the correct voltage converter (which so far has been an unsuccessful search.)
One very important part of our kitchen:
Pani (water.) We use up tons of drinking water bottles because the tap water here is definitely not drinkable. Eventually, we will buy a good filter.
Also part of the “pantry” and always on hand: onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, limes, green and red chilis, and kothimbir/coriander/cilantro (you’ll learn it’s the same thing if you read this.)
And fruit: apples, papaya, oranges, mandarins, bananas, or pomegranates. At least one of these is part of our breakfast everyday.
Finally, something that used to be part of the pantry but I recently moved it to the shelf under my desk to be closer to me, is chocolate. I probably cannot go a day without chocolate. Dark chocolate is my favorite, but so far I haven’t found Indian dark chocolate to taste very good. I was surprised with the milk chocolate though. TheCadbury Silk one on the picture, is definitely silky, it melts in your mouth. Chewing gum lives under my desk as well.
I am still missing a few Indian pantry staples like: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, curry leaves, jaggery (Indian unrefined palm sugar), and bay leaves, but I am pretty proud of what I have built, especially since I am already starting to order ingredients at stores with their marathi or hindi name.
To sum it up:
What you need to build an Indian Pantry
Chickpeas, Chapati Flour/atta, Basmati Rice, Dal (lentils), Beans, Jaggery, Various Nuts (Cashews, Pistachios, Almonds…)
Herbs and Spices
Essentials: Turmeric/haldi, Cumin/jeera, Red Chili Powder/lal mirchi, Coriander powder/dhania, Asafetida/hing, Mustard Seeds/rai, Garam Masala, Fenugreek Seeds/methi, Coriander Leaves/Cilantro.
Aromatics: Cinnamon/dalchini, Cloves/lavang, Cardamom/elaichi, Bay Leaves/tej patra, Black Pepper/kaali mirch, Dried Ground Ginger/sont.
Others: Dried Curry Leaves/karipatta, Ajwain, Dried Fenugreek Leaves/kasoori methi, Saffron/kesar, Mango Powder/amchoor, Tamarind paste.
Groundnut Oil, Sesame Oil, Yogurt (curd/dahi), Coconut Milk, Ghee (clarified butter), Paneer Cheese.
Limes, Mango, Ginger, Red and Green Chiles, Onions, Tomatoes, Garlic, Cucumbers.