Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sabzi Mandi

Kitsilano positively sucks when it comes to buying Indian spices and groceries (in fact, it sucks for all ethnic foods, period).

Visit a Sabzi Mandi near you!

Once every 6 months or so, we drive out to Stupidstore (Superstore) on SW Marine Drive or on Grandview and stock up on basmati rice, garam masala, a few other Indian spices, and a gift for Chantal (last time, mutant coconut Macapuno balls. This time, Tasty Nuts).

Chantal's random Stupidstore gift du jour

Stupidstore has a limited selection of ethnic food, bizarrely stocked in the same aisle. Indian, Phillippino, Mediterranean, and Oriental collide in a jumbled mess of cardboard boxes and foreign alphabets.

It is physically impossible to shop in this aisle without being hit with a shopping cart at least once.

What irks me the most (apart from the fact I couldn't find a single can of chipotle peppers in a store that big!) is that you can buy green mung beans at both ends of the same aisle, and mango juice in at least three different locations as well. How is one to comparison shop exactly? You can tell I'm not the only person with this frustration - a lone bulk food bag of toor lentils sits on the shelf next to packaged lentils, clearly abandoned for the better deal. (That's just tacky - buy the bulk food you took out and chock it up to a lesson learned at the price of the $0.28 difference).

Hing (asafoetida). I can't tell you how many years I've gone without this in recipes!

Finding spices like amchur/amchoor, anardana, kokum, kalonji and several other crucial spices used in the Vij's at Home recipe book is just not going to happen at Stupidstore. It's sad, though, because by far the busiest aisle is the Indian and Oriental food aisle - demand is certainly there!

Purchased from Sabzi Mandi

So where can you go? Thanks to a lovely friend (Gurpreet - thank you!), I was tipped off to Sabzi Mandi, which is just a short few blocks from the SW Marine Drive Superstore on Fraser (south of Marine Drive).

Sabzi Mandi is an oasis of sanity in an otherwise chaotic and unpleasant shopping and driving district. The store plays lively Indian music, it's tucked away from the craziness of Marine Drive, and it's surprisingly spacious inside.

Sabzi Mandi: All the Indian spices you could possibly need! I did a happy dance.

The staff are helpful when asked, and the spices, OH the spices! I found everything! I had to ask for help only with the sumac (which is not a very commonly used spice in Indian cooking), and they had it. They had everything, in two or three sizes - I wish I knew this ahead of time, or I wouldn't have bought a cubic litre worth of ground cumin from Stupidstore.

Some of the indispensible spices called for in Vij's at Home

Sabzi Mandi has all the lentils, rices, mixes and fresh & frozen vegetables your cookbook calls for, including frozen paneer (hooray! I don't even have to try making my own!). They also have incense and other Indian grocery items, including all the sweets (mixes and pre-made).

On the left is 'gur', a raw sugar sometimes called 'jaggery'

I did buy most of my lentils from Stupidstore this time around, but I'll probably just go straight to Sabzi Mandi next time.

Lentils may not excite you the way they excite me, but they should! Hey, I hate lentil soup too. But I LOVE Indian food! I also love high fibre, low fat and economical meals.

As a child, I would never believe that I would one day choose to eat any of these.

High in iron, high in protein, high in folate and vitamin B1, lentils are something everyone needs to have handy in the pantry, along with a healthy supply of spices! The spices might not be cheap, but they go a long way - combined with lentils and rice (complete protein combination), you've got yourself a cheap, healthy and potentially very tasty meal.

Above is my best attempt to connect the Hindi/Punjabi names for the various lentils and legumes pictured with the most common English terminology, at least in Vancouver anyway.

Healthy and cheap! Lentils for Lent this year while you give something else up?

I think I'll conclude my 'ode to lentils' here, because my inner child is refusing to give any more praise to these pulses.

If you're really not the adventurous type in terms of kitchen DIY, you can cheat! Thanks to the lovely manager at Sabzi Mandi, I now have two "just add water" mixes (one is Butter Chicken - I figure my non-Vegetarian partner can use that).

Just add water - the cheater's version of Indian cooking!

And if adding water and chicken and having to use the stove is too much for you, then you can cheat even more and pick up some heat-and-eat meals, too!

The total cheat. Just microwave & serve!

Buy a Vij's cookbook and trek on over to Sabzi Mundi (I discovered a Sabzi Mandi EXPRESS on Main street around 50th avenue on the way back home, too!) for a fun field trip and the chance to stock up on hard-to-find Indian flavours.

(Don't forget about Planet Veg on Cornwall in Kits if you need a healthy Indian food fix, fast!)

A winning combination - Sabzi Mandi and a Vij's cookbook

Note: Sabzi Mandi doesn't appear to have a website, unless it's related to Subzi Mandi, which is a very similar chain of Indian grocery stores in the US and eastern Canada. Here's the info from my Sabzi Mandi bag:

Sabzi Mandi
  • FRASER: 8244 Fraser St., Vancouver V5X 3X6 - tel: 604 323 2400
  • SCOTT ROAD: 9486 120 St., Surrey V3V 4B9 - tel: 604 581 2400
  • NEWTON: 106 - 12568 72 Ave., Surrey V3W 2M6 - tel: 604 590 2400
UPDATE: Found this little gem on a product website listing retailers:
Sabzi Mandi 6684-Main St. @51st Ave.(604) 327-4911


  1. you are the funniest person i know.

  2. I forgot to mention the other gift of 'sac juice' for your culinary abortions blog, Chan. ;) Though that was from T&T.
    I hope you will enjoy your sachet of tasty nuts.