Chips and a soft drink – India style

by Tom Hanchett, 2010sodahotmixEver thought, “I’d like to explore immigrant food stores, but how would I know what to buy?” Here’s a tasty strategy – look for chips and a soft drink.

I did just that at India Grocers in Pineville. Pritesh Patel behind the counter, quiet and friendly, was born in Gujarat, India, but came to the US as a youngster 22 years ago. His family has stores in Michigan and a brother runs one in Cincinnati. Pritesh decided to try his luck in Charlotte. Newcomers from India make up this city’s second largest immigrant group, behind only Mexicans.

Salty snacks are popular at India Grocers. Bright packages line two whole aisles – but they aren’t the familiar U.S. potato or corn chips.

“Bhelpuri is our best seller,” says Pritesh. It’s a bit like Chexmix crossed with Doritos, a variety of crispy shapes dusted with flavorful powder. “It’s got puffed rice, noodles made from chickpea flour, little bread-puffs, peanuts.”

I sampled Haldiram’s brand bhelpuri, just as hard to stop eating as U.S. potato chips. There are dozens of other brands, including the aptly named Hot Mix.

Thirsty, I reached into the cooler for a Thums-up cola. It’s beloved in India — Coca-Cola couldn’t beat it and ended up buying the company.

Thums-up has a hint of bitter betel-nut, not what my American tongue wanted. Pritesh said he feels the same way about Coke, only in reverse.

We agreed on a Fanta orange drink. Even though Fanta is also made in the U.S., Indian customers prefer the glass bottles from back home. I did, too. The Indian version uses sugar, not modern high-fructose corn syrup. A smooth, cool sip carried me back to younger days.

India Grocers
Hours: 9am – 9pm seven days a week.

509 N Polk Street (Interstate 485 exit 65B)
Pineville, NC, 28134
(704) 889-2210

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