In Saraga International Grocery, conversations in Burmese, French, Korean, Spanish and other languages cross the aisles. Some shoppers are new to the store, wandering around the old 62,000 square foot Super Kmart for the first time. Others grew up shopping in Saraga and know exactly what to look for and where to find it in geographically organized food aisles around the world.
According to Brad Nam, marketing director of Saraga, saraga means “living together” in Korean, and the store is a perfect example. The hope, he says, is that people come for something specific, like curry sticks, and come away with something from a different aisle,like Korean noodles, to try.
These chance encounters are great, but due to its size and the variety of its selection, Saraga can be intimidating to the uninitiated. IndyStar spoke to buyers and workers for their best recommendations on what to buy in the Saraga at 3605 Commercial Drive, northwest of Indianapolis.
To the left of the front doors is a row of independent restaurants that serve a quick bite to customers. Asian Snack has served North Chinese cuisine in Saraga for years. Helen Jin, whose family took over the restaurant in 2018, recommends the beef noodle soup, spicy steamed fish, or beef pancakes.
Next door, Don Luis Restaurant serves tacos, pozole, tamales and more. According to a Yelp reviewer, the tacos were “so good you have to keep yourself from finishing because you’ve already eaten too much.”
Once around the corner you’ll find Karen Thai Street Food, a new business that opened last month. Aung Aye, co-owner of the restaurant with her four sisters, recommends the pad kee mao, one of the curries or the boat noodles for the more adventurous.
Boat noodles get their name from the vendors in floating markets in Thailand who serve noodles from boats. Aye’s boat noodles made in pork broth containing pork blood.
“We cook the broth with pork thorn and let it boil for two hours.” Aye said after serving a hot bowl topped with cilantro and meatballs to a customer.
For dessert, try the Crushed Ice Salad, a Korean-style sweet dessert made with ice cream, palm seeds, multi-colored chewy jelly toppings, sweetened condensed milk, peanuts, and Hale Boy syrup.
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When asked what the most popular items are in Saraga, Josier Canales, manager of the grocery store in Saraga, laughed and replied “Most of the time… everything. But when in a hurry, he replied that “people come for the fish.” Saraga’s selection includes around 100 types of shellfish, freshwater and saltwater fish and seafood. It arrives on Thursdays and Fridays from local farms and fish markets inNew York, Florida and Maryland.
For Mechelle Bradford of Paducah, Ky., The freshness and selection have made Saraga one of her favorite places. She makes a trip to Saraga every other weekend when she comes to visit her boyfriend in Indianapolis.
“They have a lot of frozen fish that you can’t find anywhere,” Bradford said. “Especially where I’m from in Kentucky, you just can’t find them. You’d have to fly them in, and it’s more expensive. So I just get them when I’m here.
On the storefront, products from around the world are displayed with signs proclaiming their country of origin. Whether it’s young yellow mangoes from Mexico, African eggplant from Honduras, or dragon fruit from Vietnam, customers can find fruit right at home or try something they’ve never seen before.
Viktoriah Yeziao swears by Saraga bananas. She says that “the taste is different” from bananas that you can buy in other stores like Walmart or Kroger.
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Some buyers are looking for ingredients to make recipes at home. Mark Sahoury buys heart squash and stuffing with a mixture of rice, meat and spices that he brings to the United States from eastern Palestine. Magda Rodriguez comes to Saraga for Puerto Rican products that are difficult to find elsewhere. When she spoke to IndyStar, she was buying red peppers to make sofrito, a paste used to season many Hispanic foods, which she puts on yellow rice.
Behind the fresh products, the grocery and snack shelves are sorted by country or region. As you wander the aisles, you might come across familiar products in unfamiliar packaging. This is an opportunity to try products like coffee from different countries.
Andrew Lenis, originally from Colombia, recommends Sello Rojo. He drinks it black, and sometimes he eats it with Colombiana Pandequeso, a bagel-shaped cheese bread made from tapioca flour that you find near the cafe.
According to Lenis, coffee in cafes does not taste like “real” coffee. “They’ve been transformed so much that they eventually break down, but it’s strong,” he said.
Saraga also offers a variety of sugar that can be found in all forms. From rectangular patches of brown sugar with Chinese wrapping to fresh candy cane, you’re bound to find something to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Lenis recommends panela, cylindrical blocks of unrefined whole cane sugar.
“Soak them in water, you put lime, and you drink it cold.” he explains. This is how you prepare aguapanela con limón, a traditional Colombian drink.
According to Andrea Nuñez, the same type of sugar, called piloncillo in Mexico, can also be found cone shaped and used to make syrup for sweet potatoes.
In addition to ingredients for baking or baking, try crisps, instant noodles, cookies, and candies from around the world.
Canales, the manager of the grocery store, is a fan of Korean ramen. Spicy ramen, especially buldak ramen, is currently popular with customers, he says.
Buldak ramen is the spicy chicken ramen behind the Korean Fire Noodle Challenge which went viral in 2018. Some varieties are actually vegan.
For those who don’t like spicy dishes, try the Matcha KitKats from Japan, Ginger Candy from China, Rollitos from Colombia, or Roasted Seaweed from South Korea.