The Market: Himalayan Bazaar
Location: 7918 El Cajon Blvd, #T, La Mesa
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 9:30am-9pm; Friday and Saturday, 9:30am-10pm
Specialties: Indian and Nepalese
Himalayan Bazaar is not the biggest South Asian market in San Diego County, but crammed inside the medium-sized shop in a strip mall in La Mesa, you will find thousands of Nepalese and Indian foods, ingredients, cookware, and gifts that are as much fun to shop for as they are to cook with. Opened in 2012, the family-owned shop has the best prices on spices that we've seen anywhere, and a staggering selection. The frozen food isle is a treasure trove as well, with ready-to-cook paratha and chapati doughs and take-and-bake samosas. The front of the shop is dedicated to home decor items, bizarre gifts (think 1940s style wind-up toys and bamboo-shaped pencils), and an entire wall of incense. And, if you get hungry doing all that shopping, the attached restaurant has a killer lunch special for $8.95 which includes rice, daal, naan, and two entrees the likes of chana masala, chicken tikka masala, and saag aloo.
The price and selection of spices here is reason enough to make the drive to La Mesa. They sell both in bulk and smaller baggies, which are perfect if you need an unusual spice for just one dish. Find cardamon pods, black salt, sumac, mustard seeds, and all manner of other whole and ground spices along with masala spice blends for everything from keema to korma.
Prepare to have your life changed. I'm not kidding. I first encountered frozen paratha and chapati dough when I was living in the Middle East, and I've never been the same since. Rounds of thinly rolled dough are separated by plastic sheets so you can take out just what you need for a particular meal. A minute on an oil, ghee, or butter coated pan and your dough will magically puff up and brown to chewy, crisp perfection. Imagine, you are a minute away from fresh flatbread at all times when you have these babies in the freezer. Amazing.
Have you ever seen fresh turmeric? Find it along with bitter gourd, fresh tamarind pods, and curry leaves in their small produce section. The rest of the offerings are pretty sparse, but it is a good place to grab a few Indian essentials that you won't find at Ralph's.
Find massive blocks of the fresh Indian cheese known as paneer. Dice it up and simmer it with spinach and spices for your own saag paneer, fry it for a delicious snack served alongside chutney, or throw it in a soup for some extra heft and protein.
If you want to make spongy, fermented idli or dosa from scratch, you need the right flour. Find it here along with chickpea flour, great for battering veggies, and atta flour for making chapatis.
Need a special ghee pot? Oh, they have that. We especially love the steel plates with a large space for rice and smaller sectioned off compartments for each accompaniment. The tin spice boxes are essential for anyone serious about learning to make South Asian cuisine, as you need quick access to staple spices so you can throw them into your sizzling hot ghee or mustard oil to bloom at just the right time.
Pickles, or achar, are a staple at pretty much every meal in South Asia. Mango pickles, made from green, unripe mangos are the most common, but there are so many other amazing pickles to choose from, like lemon pickle, mixed vegetable pickle. Many are pickled with chilies, oil, and salt and appear more like a paste or chutney than a dill. They add an amazing boost of flavor to rice dishes. Speaking of chutney, they have that too. Pick up some mint chutney to add to basically everything.
Specialty Cooking Fats
Mustard Oil is absolutely essential for South and East Indian cooking, with an unmistakable flavor and heat. Ghee, clarified butter, is essential for pretty much all South Asian cookery, adding a richness to any dish or bread it touches. Be forewarned, it is hard to go back to the more cholesterol-friendly olive oil after using this lucious fat.
Home Decor and Miscellanea
Along with Hindu Gods and incense, search the shelves for unusual gifts, beauty produces, and hand carved wooden home decor. The selection is random and changes often, so its best to just go peruse the shelves and see what you find.