2570 S. Beretannia St (Opposite Kinko’s near corner of University Avenue)
Honolulu, HI 96826
Phone: 808 946 2020.
Shereen Khan and I both grew up eating Indian food. He enjoyed the spices and flavors of his homeland under tropical sun and warm breeze whereas I filled up on curry and rice in the frozen North of Scotland. Seriously.
Indian food is so popular in Scotland that it’s referred to as the ’national’ dish. Ever since leaving my home, more than 12 years ago, I’ve searched high and low for good Indian food in Hawaii and have always been somewhat disappointed.
Shereen, who grew up in Fiji and moved to Hawaii more than 20 years ago feels much about the same, so when he was looking to start a business that was unique and had market appeal, he decided on India Market – a spicy food lover’s dream.
“We did a lot of market research, “ says the affable Khan, “ and we quickly realized that this is one area of the food business that has been neglected in Hawaii.”
But Khan’s love of the traditional fiery foods of India wasn’t all that inspired his dream of offering people something different in Hawaii.
“I’ve worked for United Airlines for more than 20 years, “ he says, “And in that time, traveling the world I’ve managed to pick up knowledge of the best and most popular products around the globe.
When we decided to open the store, I wanted to bring in everything that I’d seen that I knew people would want.”
The result, after three long years of sourcing individual products is a veritable foodies Aladdin’s Cave.
Shereen really does know his onions. And his vegemite (ask an Australian) and his Quality Street (ask a Brit) and his ghee (ask any vegetarian) as well as his Palusami (ask a Pacific Islander) and his Halva (ask someone from the Middle East).
The store, tucked away in a tiny mall off Beretannia (opposite Kinko’s near University) is packed with row after row of jars and tins of exotic foods, frozen desserts, pickles, grape leaves, olives, ghee, juices, and spreads.
Huge jars of roasted red peppers sit next to tubs of green and black Greek olives that rub shoulders with packages of dried herbs and spices that sell in other stores for more than twice the price.
One shelf is almost entirely devoted to Indian packaged foods at less than half the price I’ve seen them in ‘health food stores’.
“People do ask me all the time how I manage to keep the prices so low, “ says Shereen with a smile. “I’m just trying to get the things that people want and sell them at a reasonable price.”
Ah, the beauty of competition.
If you enjoy Indian food – Shereen has everything you need to make complete meals either from scratch (including durum flour to make chapattis and Nan bread) or ready made.
I’ve never been a fan of packaged foods, (finding that they usually bear no resemblance to the photographs on the package, for a start), But these offerings from Ashoka – a range of vegetarian Indian meals are superb. They do need a little doctoring to make them look exactly like the cover illustrations – but they get full marks for taste and authenticity. With no preservatives, coloring or MSG they are a fantastically healthy alternative to meat dishes.
Pair them with some basmati rice (yes, India Market has a wide variety of rice too), breads, pickles and chutney and you have a pretty authentic Indian meal.
Certainly the meal I made using packaged food, chutney and with the addition of some home made raita and Nan bread was really enjoyable.
But its not just Indian food that Shereen has procured. “In my years of traveling,” he says, ”I’ve built relationships with so many people and I think I know what the best products are.” Consequently there’s corned beef and mutton from New Zealand, Bulgarian sheep’s milk, ladyfingers from Italy (and anyone who shops in specialty food stores will be thrilled at the $2.95 for 2 dozen price tag!) vegemite from Australia and cookies and chocolate from Britain. For Pacific Islanders there’s a wealth of specialty foods and for those with a sweet tooth there are Indian desserts rarely seen in Hawaii.
“I can pretty much get anything that anyone wants,” says Shereen with a smile. Adding that he’s determined to keep India Market exclusive and only stock items that can’t be found elsewhere.
“We have a wide range of Indian movies, soundtracks, music and even clothing,” he explains, pointing to racks of brightly colored satins and silks in one corner of the store.
It’s a terrific find, especially for foodies who love to discover new and unusual ingredients.