It’s not often that your college field trips take you back closer to home, but when they do, they can show you sides of your own community that you’d never explored. When Professor Ball-Phillips announced the location of our second class trip, I nearly choked on my own laughter. I wasn’t laughing at the trip itself, but at the fact that I’d s
hopped at the Party City next door all throughout high school. Halfway between my house and my high school, tucked into an unassuming shopping strip, lies Taj Mahal Imports, an Indian Grocery store.
When you enter the store, the air around you becomes permeated with the scent of spices, so you feel as if you’ve stepped into another world. Set up in the style of a typical grocery store in America, upon closer inspection, the goods on the shelves of Taj Mahal read in Devanagari and English script with products hailing from all over the world. The store is filled with aisles of imported goods, from delectable British candies to Indian beauty products.
While the entire store is an emporium of delights just waiting to be explored, the back corner is the crown jewel of Taj Mahal Imports. A chaat-style food stand is hidden away behind the rows of grocery items, staffed by two women who make magic in a mini-mart. Offering a simple vegetarian menu of items like Aloo Tikki and Pani Puri, the chaat corner serves up delicious bowls of Indian street food that are all priced under $4. As we browse and prepare to order, several Indian customers enter the store and order their lunch with the familiarity of regulars.
Having only had Indian food twice before in my life, I decide to play it safe, choosing the Samosa Chaat as my dish of choice. After lifting up several lids and releasing delicious aromas to ladle up my order, the chaat stand woman asks if I’d like onions and cheese (always a yes, no matter the cuisine) and yogurt (definitely a no across all ethnic foods). I hesitantly take my first bite and slip into food nirvana. The dish is savory and hearty with samosas at the bottom of the bowl, but sweetness is brought in by the presence of the onions. The combination of spices and herbs coupled with the chutney creates a perfectly portioned plate that kept me full for the entire rest of the day.
More impactful than the flavor of the chaat dish, is the revelation of what places like Taj Mahal Imports mean for immigrant communities. As mentioned in From Curry Mahals to Chaat Cafes by Arijit Sen, import-based stores and ethnic food stands play an important part in bringing together immigrants for fellowship and continuation of many of the customs native to their home country. More than just a grocery store, the Taj Mahal Imports is a piece of India that binds a vibrant network together, all from a little shopping strip in Richardson, Texas.