India is famous for its crowded, colourful bazaars, and there are plenty of those. What many people may not realize is that the rising buying power of the Middle Class has created a demand for new shopping venues like supermarkets and shopping malls, as well as new products. Many of these innovations are not limited to large centers only, but are increasingly evident in smaller towns and even villages. We'd like to give you some idea of what's available here, what's not available, and in what form you might find it.
There is a large range of western style convenience foods appearing on the scene. Many Middle Class families have dual wage earners, so they have more disposable income but less free time. Ready-to-eat and easy-cook foods are finding a market. So are frozen foods, canned foods, and junk foods. Some international brands, like Kellogg's, are active here, but most brands are domestic. Of course, due to changing life styles, fast food restaurants are everywhere. The imported varieties include Macdonald's, Baskin Robbins, Pizza Hut, and KFC, but they have a tiny presence. Mostly you'll find traditional Indian fast food joints, selling spicy fried snacks, and home-grown versions of Western fast food, selling burgers, fried rice, baked goods or pizza. Franchised chains of domestic fast food restaurants have not really developed yet, but they are coming.
Super markets have developed on a small scale in urban centers, selling the processed and packaged foods that are increasingly available. There are still no national chains, the Indian equivalent of Safeway Stores, but these super markets carry canned, packaged, and often frozen, foods. They also sell dry goods and convenience items for the homemaker. You can buy cosmetics, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, tissues, foil wrap, detergent, cleaners, bug sprays, etc. A few stores in larger cities carry a limited range of imported goods.
Health foods are just beginning to be appreciated, and rarely have a separate section for them, much less a whole store selling only health food. Frozen foods are also not too common, if only because of infrastructure to store and transport them. Ice cream, though, is now widely available.
Fruits & vegetables
Local produce is still usually purchased in the local bazaars, which are full of vegetable and fruit dealers, fish mongers, meat sellers, and all manner of spices and other things. These markets tend to be crowded, and are fascinating places - well worth visiting. Since Indian homemakers prefer to shop daily, some suburbs have small vegetable and fruit stalls near the road side, and dry goods stores, etc. As a rule, you'll have to bargain to get good deals.
Fruits may not be the ones you are used to. You can commonly get all kinds of tropical fruits, depending on season. These include bananas, mangos, oranges, guava, custard apples, pineapple, papaya, and more. Try any new fruit you see. If you like it, you've got a new friend. Sadly, there are some fruits you will not usually find. These include good apples, cherries, pears, peaches, and strawberries.
Vegetables may surprise you, too, though many will be familiar. You can commonly get potatoes, onions, carrots, cucumber, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, green peppers, okra, spinach, peas, beans, lentils, and such. Lettuce, zucchini, squash, artichoke and asparagus would be rare finds. As compensation, there are some very strange looking things for sale sometimes. Spikey gourds, long skinny vegetables, big bunches of leaves, brown lumpy things. You'll have to experiment, but be sure and ask someone how it's cooked.
Meats are available, usually in a section of the local bazaar. Chicken is the most common meat, as well as fish if you are near the sea, but goat and beef are also sold. Chicken is always fresh killed. In fact, you'll have to look the little creature in the eye and say "That one". It will be plucked and jointed for you as you require. If you want the whole bird, for roasting, make sure you specify that. Most people buy chopped up chicken. Goat and beef is also freshly killed (a good thing with no refrigeration), and the carcasses hang there. You have to specify your cut. For some, the process of visiting a meat market here is enough to push them into vegetarianism. Vegetarians would be more numerous in the West, no doubt, except that the sanitary, plastic-wrapped cuts of meat sold there suggest no connection to a recently butchered animal. Pre-packaged meats, and frozen meat products, are occasionally available in special stores in bigger centers.
Eggs & dairy products
Eggs and dairy products are available everywhere. Eggs are sold loose, so buy a plastic egg carton to carry them home in. India is one of the largest milk producers in the world, recently surpassing the U.S., so there is a lot of milk around. Butter, powdered milk, and canned processed cheese are available at most dry goods stores. Non processed cheese, like cheddar, gouda, and the like are available on a small scale, and usually only in big cities right now. Paneer is a fresh cheese used in Indian cooking, and has a taste and texture between cottage cheese and tofu.
Milk is available at local dairy co-operatives, but is most commonly brought to people's houses fresh from the cow. Ask your neighbours where they get their milk. A good milkman is a joy, but hard to find. All milk in India should be boiled before use, even the co-op milk which is supposed to be pasteurized. Milk can carry TB and other diseases. Boiling also separates out the cream, which should be skimmed once the milk is cooled. The more cream the milk contains, the better the milkman. If your milk and cream seem unusually white, the milk comes from water buffalos, which give rich, creamy milk with a slightly different taste than cow's milk.
Bread & jams
Bread is not a problem, provided you like the fluffy, white stuff. Some places sell 'brown bread' but is it usually just coloured white bread. Real whole grain, hearty breads might be found in special bakeries in large cities catering to expats, returnees and a few modern health faddists. If you have to have it, you may have to make your own.
Spreads - Honey can be great, if you can get the real thing. Wild flavours and reasonable prices. Jams are disappointing. Usually too sweet and often artificially flavoured. The best buy seems to be DRUX Brand, but you may want to try making your own. Easy enough to do, and lots of cheap fruit to experiment with. Mayonnaise is available, but some brands are very oily. Try FUN FOODS Brand, which also makes a variety of sandwich spreads. Peanut butter seems to be the sole domain of PRUTINA, but it is pretty good. Both peanut butter and mayonnaise are expensive, though, and if you have a blender or food processor you may want to make your own. Get a JOY OF COOKING cook book (available here) if you want to try. It covers just about every cooking basic.
Herbs & spices
Herbs, like oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and the like are available in dry form in some cities. Nilgiri's Departmental Store on Brigade Road in Bangalore is one of the best stocked stores for expats in South India. If you don't live in Bangalore, you may have to stock up when you visit. Fresh varieties of those herbs are not available, but if you bring seeds you may be able to grow your own. All manner of Indian spices are available, fresh or dried, and mixtures of flavouring - like ginger and garlic puree, chili paste, etc.
|Soft drinks & juices|
Soft drinks in India now include the ubiquitous Coke and Pepsi, but there are also many different and interesting local drinks. Check them out, unless they look like they were bottled in the back of the shop. There are also cartons of tropical fruit juice - like mango, orange, etc. These are sweetened a bit too much, usually.
Don't forget that the best buy in the soft drinks department is fresh juice from the tender coconut. These green coconuts are sold in the shell from street corner carts. They are clean, refreshing, and (amazingly) cheaper than any brand of coloured sugar water.
Beer, liquor, & wine
Alcohol is easily available unless you live in a "dry" state. At present, none of the South Indian states have prohibition. However, there will be more variety of brands and types of alcohol in the larger cities, with Bangalore offering the best selection in the South. Local beer can be pretty good, with the popular favourite being Kingfisher. A variety of hard liquors are available, but the quality is not the best. Too many local brands are really flavoured grain alcohol. Even rum, with all the sugar cane grown here, is quite raw compared to the Caribbean product. Probably the best brand available is Hercules. There are a number of premium whiskeys being sold now, using imported scotch or imported/domestic blends. They are better, but expensive. Recently, international companies such as Seagram, Smirnoff, Cinzano, and others have set up. Their products are available, at present, in larger cities.
Wine is another story. For decades you could only buy a sweet red sherry-like wine, in the South, at least. Recently, some enterprising companies have set up genuine wineries and are starting to produce table wines. There aren't many choices yet, and the prices are high ($6-10 a bottle for mediocre wine). Still, it is a start, and since India has the climate to produce very good wines in the Australian or Spanish tradition, we can expect things to improve