Desh Bazaar gives new meaning to ‘country’ store

SPRING HILL –
The shop on the end cap of the Village Plaza appears to be a small storefront. Inside, customers discover a cross-continental bevy of grocery items from India to the Caribbean.

Desh Bazaar Indian Grocery specializes in spices and many other grocery items from India, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries.

Shop owner Sita “Janki” Ramrattan and her husband, Pundit Ramdeo “Ram” Ramrattan, said they add new items weekly to the store’s eclectic collection. “We’re a continental, multi-cultural store,” said Ram. “We also order anything a customer needs if we don’t have it.”

The Ramrattans purchased the former Sita West Indian Grocery with the goal of expanding its inventory and offering healthy international grocery items. They opened Desh Bazaar on September 17.

Ram said the bazaar is “like a country store.” It carries fresh produce; refrigerated or frozen meat, fish, and poultry; New Zealand Anchor cheese; chutneys, relishes, and garlic pastes; cooking oils; besan (gram flour); chakki fresh atta (stone ground flour); 25 types of curry powder; 10 varieties of rice including Zafarani basmati; chow mein noodles; canned Jamaican mackerel; dried fruits; canned coconut milk; Guyana cream soda and Jamaican ginger beer soda; snacks; and refrigerated items including garlic, Golden Ray butter, green plantains and Solo sodas.

They have crackers from Trinidad and Jamaica, Jamaican Tastee brand cheese spread, and Double Deuce and Grace canned callaloo.

Their “fire shelf” includes Jamaican hot ketchup, calypso sauce, pepper sauces and other hot spices.

Jamaican customer Vincent Lewis buys a lot of oxtail and said it’s often expensive and full of fat. He was delighted to learn Desh Bazaar has quality oxtail for $4.50 per pound.

“I don’t eat a lot of salt,” Lewis said. “I like natural foods. The kind of stuff you can buy here won’t give you cancer. There’s no chemicals or preservatives.”

Lewis thinks the new Desh Bazaar “has a whole lot more to offer, with better quality. It’s bright and clean, open on Saturdays, and the proprietors treat you with courtesy. I’ll be back next week to do my shopping for Christmas dinner.”

Janki gave him cookies for his daughters. “We like to give cookies to the children,” she said. “They are always welcome here.”

Customer Durga Reddy stops by frequently to purchase snacks, yogurt and produce. “I like this store very much. It is well maintained,” she said.

Ram said they keep produce prices as low as possible. Three pounds of onions is $1.69. Red onions are 89 cents per pound; Spanish yellow onions, 49 cents per pound. Japanese sweet potatoes are $1.29 per pound. Cauliflower is $1 a head; cabbage, 99 cents; jumbo tomatoes, 99 cents a pound; cucumbers, four for $1.

“We maintain a quick turnaround on our produce and are extremely picky about its quality,” added Ram. “Yucca goes fast, as many customers are aware of its health benefits.”

Bins of loose dal (beans) are sold by the pound. “My grandfather lived to be 104, and was never sick,” said Ram. “He ate dal every day.”

Cases of whole wheat and Tandoori stone-ground naan (flatbread) on the front counter are big sellers. “We sell easily three cases a week, so it’s always fresh,” Ram said.

“Curry” is a generic term for a mixture of different spices. Ram often advises customers on what types of curry goes best with different meat, fish, poultry or vegetables.

Janki and Ram keep a display on their sales counter describing health benefits of tumeric and curcumin, two common curry ingredients. It suggests benefits of eating curry may include reducing joint inflammation and helping protect against cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Individual cultures create their own spice mixtures to suit indigenous tastes. “Curry can be different colors depending on the weather conditions where it was grown, or how it’s mixed in the mill,” said Ram.

He explained the store carries different types of curry that are produced in the east, west, north and south of India.

New store items include a “hot and spicy” curry powder specially designed for cooking with duck or goat, and a stone-ground garam masala (blend of ground spices). “Using stone to prepare curry gives it a better taste than using a metal mill,” Ram stated.

Desh Bazaar inventories Patak’s curry (popular in the U.K.), Laxmi, Eastern and Lalah’s brands, madras curry, Chief and Guyanese Pride madras curries, and also inventories the higher-end Maywah brand.

They also carry whole and ground single spices for those who want to grind their own mixtures. A hard-to-find roasted, ground cumin seed or “jeera” sells for $2.29 for a 3 ounce package.

Other popular items include Jamaican Solomon Gundy smoked herring pate; canned Jamaican Ackee fruit; Tetley Masala tea; Tops brand Jamaican herbal teas; Nanak brand ghee (clarified butter); Walkerswood traditional Jamaican jerk seasoning; cassava sauce; Matouk’s tomato ketchup; and their “heat and eat” boxes of Paneer Makhani, Baingan Bharta and Aloo Chole.

Shelving behind the sales counter contains tonics, vitamins, oils and cosmetics like India fingernail polish in ornate bottles. Indian and Jamaican movies can be rented for $2/day or purchased for $4.99 each. They plan to add Indian bangle bracelets, skirts and tops.

The Ramrattans get great satisfaction from helping the less fortunate in their community. They donate goods and money to those in need, and believe the healthy foods they sell are a way to help others avoid disease and live healthier lives.

Ram’s eclectic knowledge of foods comes from his family and his travels – he loves to cook and learned everything he could from his mother, grandmother, and any other cooks who would teach him. He came to Spring Hill via New York, and before that, Trinidad where his parents had emigrated to.

The Ramrattans love Spring Hill. “My son is going to grow up here,” Ram said. “I want people to know who I am, and who my family is. We get to know our neighbors and customers. It’s rewarding to answer customer’s questions and to hear that our products make them feel good. We help people any way we can.”

To celebrate Christmas, Desh Bazaar will have a customer appreciation day this Thursday, December 23, with freshly prepared Indian dishes for customers to sample.

Desh Bazaar is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

BIZ AT A GLANCE

Name: Desh Bazaar Indian Grocery

Location: 10509 Spring Hill Drive (the Village Plaza), Spring Hill

Telephone: (352) 666-0101

Jody Bowes writes regularly for Hernando Today. She lives in Spring Hill and can be contacted at JBowesHernando@aol.com.

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