One often hears lamentations about the lack of great ethnic groceries in DC and its metro area, and to some extent, the complaints are accurate.* And they are certainly true when it comes to Indian and southeast Asian foods—there are no Indian groceries within the city itself. But luckily, I found not only an Indian grocery just a few minutes over the Maryland-DC border, but an excellent one! Patel Brothers is located in Langley Park (adjacent to College Park), and is the answer to all of your vegetable korma, garam masala, and gulab jaman needs.
I have to credit an Indian friend for tipping me off to this place, as I never would have found it on my own. In fact, very little information or reviews are available on-line, which is surprising considering that Patel Brothers is actually the largest Indian grocery chain in America with over 35 stores across the country (see its website). The fact that it’s not discussed on Chowhound, DC Foodies, and other local food blogs could mean one of two things: 1) it’s terrible, or 2) non-Indian Americans just don’t go here! From what I could glean in my one visit, I found the latter to be the case. The quality of products I bought, the variety available, and of course the recommendation from an Indian friend (who is quite the cook himself) all led me to believe that this big chain with its little local presence is a secret that is worth your discovery.
Anyway, onto the merchandise! Patel Brothers is small but packed. My favorite part of ethnic groceries is the remarkable prices of food sold in bulk—this place has 10-kilo bags of rice, industrial-sized cans of chickpeas, and gigantic bags of the essential spices (cumin, fenugreek, garam masala, etc) for prices much cheaper than any conventional grocery store. I was also excited to purchase fresh fruits and veggies, frozen samosas, various sauce mixes, and dosa batter, since getting my knack for Indian cooking is going to take some practice…
One last tip—don’t forget to check out the array of Indian CDs and DVDs in the back for a little more Indian (not just Bollywood!) flavor.
They say the better the spices you buy for Indian, Thai, and other foods, the better your meal will taste. And after cooking divine curried chickpeas with a coconut curry sauce, I am now a believer in this mantra!
To get there: 2080 University Blvd E, Langley Park, MD, 301-422-1555. A fair bit of a walk from the College Park, Takoma Park, and Prince George’s Plaza Metro stations. I’d say a car is your best bet for this one!