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The Indian Grocery Store Demystified: Book Review >> Bazaars >>  Book Review

Many grocery shops also serve as community 'hubs,' providing advice about what the good neighborhoods are, how to find an apartment, even employment and much more.

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Review by B. Marold Writes on

`The Indian Grocery Store Demystified' by book designer and illustrator, Linda Bladholm is an exposition of ingredients with a very nice little twist which saves it from being a poor man's `Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients'. While Cost's classic book deals with the serious culinary details of a great many basic ingredients, Ms. Bladholm's book, as suggested by her title, is much more pointedly directed at the shopper's experience in your typical strip mall Indian market.

The author adds appeal and charm to her book by opening it with a visit to her own local mom and pop run Indian grocery store. The store in question was just a bit better organized and stocked than my own favorite Filipino run store in southern New Jersey, but all the familiar staples were there, if not in all the familiar places.

The device of providing a guided tour of an Asian market is reinforced by mentioning all the major brand names for staples such as rice, noodles, sauces, oils, and spice mixes, with opinions by the author of which may be the preferred brands. While I found a few misstatements, such as describing a gluten free flour as `general purpose' (general purpose flours by definition have 10% to 12% gluten producing proteins), and I missed some possible warnings against Texmati rice as a less than useful substitute for Basmati rice, I believe the advice and information in this book is a really great supplement to other books on Asian ingredients with a more scholarly bent.

By far the biggest weakness of the book is the difference in quality between the promise of `over 400 illustrations of ingredients' and the quality of those illustrations. The illustrations in the book are all small black and white line drawings easily fitting into an inch square area with lots of the pictures giving no sense of the kind of thing they are depicting. The little picture of ginger certainly looks like the ginger with which I am familiar, but the picture of the related galangal rhizome does little to assure me that I would be able to use that picture to pick it out from bins of produce labeled in Chinese characters. These poor illustrations give the lie to the claim that this is a `Take It With You' guide, in that it is dealing with a guide to items which may all be labeled in not only a foreign language, but in a script we are simply not used to interpreting. The very clever chapter headings of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Tagalong and Korean ideograms for food categories (with English translations) do nothing to help the situation.

Note that unlike many other books on Asian ingredients, this book has few recipes using these ingredients. This is not necessarily a weakness, as it means that almost all the space in the book is dedicated to the book's principle topic, the groceries. And, much of this space is dedicated to subjects which purely culinary books may not touch such as teas and medicinal herbs and spices. This is probably not the best book on these subjects, but treating these topics enhances the treatment of the book's primary metaphor, the Indian grocery store, as they do, in fact, appear in Indian grocery stores.

The short appendix on cooking methods and utensils is not too helpful. These will be of little value if your Asian store has a good selection of cooking utensils.

This book is great if you find yourself living within easy shopping distance of a good Indian market. The book also useful if you plan to order lots of Indian groceries over the Internet, as the recommended brands gives one some assurance they are not buying sawdust. The book is less valuable for the culinary generalist, who has no special interest in Asian or Indian cuisine, especially in that the book includes no bibliography. For those readers, Bruce Cost's book mentioned above is far superior a source.




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