March 2, 2024
I Drive 77 Miles Just to Get This "Delicious" $4 Pantry Staple

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There are few grocery stores I’m willing to drive over an hour to visit … maybe just one. Saraga International Grocery is a grocery-lover’s dream, and shopping there is nearly a pastime in itself. There is incredible variety, with groceries from all over the world; many of the items I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

With three locations in Indianapolis, Indiana, and two in Columbus, Ohio, it is well worth the 80-minute trip. I could get lost just wandering the produce department: lychee, chayotes, guava, bitter melon, and more. Delectable food stalls around the store perimeter allow for a mid-trip refuel, whether it be tamales, Korean corn dogs, or enticing pastries from Indiana’s only Tours Le Jour. 

I often visit to stock up on bulk dry goods and spices, as the prices are hard to beat (there aren’t many places where I can buy a 15-pound bag of rice without a membership), but there are many other items I go out of my way to get. These eight are a few of my go-tos. 

Couscous might just make the top 10 list of my favorite foods. It serves as the base for so many delicious recipes, like this one-pot smoked almond and herbed wonder. I often eat a bowl on its own, made simply with chicken broth and a touch of olive oil, which is why I pick up a bag of this $4 whole-wheat couscous during my Saraga trips (it’s much harder to find at nearby grocery stores). I’m not usually a fan of whole-wheat pasta, but I find this one to be just as tasty as its non-whole-wheat counterpart. 

I was first introduced to Milka chocolate as a teenager when an exchange student staying with my family brought some as a gift from Germany. The bars are challenging to find locally (they can be ordered online for a hefty upcharge). Saraga stocks a pretty impressive variety of Milka bar flavors, like Cherry Creme and Almond Truffle. My personal favorite is the Lu Biscuit. Sadly, they were out of stock on my last visit, so I picked up a bar of Peanut Crispy Caramel instead — a mash-up between a butterfinger and a Mr. Goodyear bar, with a delightfully rich chocolate as the base.

3. Lars Own Belgian Pearl Sugar

Who doesn’t love Belgian liege waffles? While you can technically make them without the pearl sugar, they just aren’t the same. I also like to keep a bag in my pantry to add an extra-special touch to muffins, cookies, croissants, or other baked goods — whether it’s mixed in, sprinkled on top, or both.

4. Lorina Sparkling Pink Lemonade

As a self-proclaimed lemonade aficionado (it serves as half of my favorite drink — the iced tea lemonade), there are few brands I enjoy drinking without the addition of unsweetened tea. I find most store-bought lemonades to be either too sweet or too punchy. This one, however, is lightly sweet and bubbly. As a bonus, I can hang on to the cute glass bottle for future beverage storage.

5. Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp

Chili crisp is a secret ingredient that effortlessly creates some fantastic dishes. I like to mix some with plain Greek yogurt (a little goes a long way!) to make a quick dip for crackers or carrots. It elevates simple noodles, and pairs well with baked Brie and walnuts. When my dish just needs a little bit of crunchy heat, I turn to chili crisp.

A recent culinary goal of mine has been to delve into Korean cooking, and many of the recipes I’ve been making include Doenjang so I’ve been adding it to my Saraga grocery list. While a few of the items I’ve purchased before at Saraga can be found at other grocery stores with a much higher price tag, doenjang is one that I have never found locally. I use it to make ssamjang, a dipping sauce commonly used with Korean BBQ, and stews (try this Instant Pot doenjang-jjigae!); it also adds a touch of umami to a quick butter sauce to top steamed or blanched broccoli.

7. Wel-Pac Japanese Udon Noodles

I love udon — I could easily eat a bowl plain, although they are admittedly better with broth and a dab of chili crisp. My favorite application is in stir-fries, like this easy curried noodle dish, but they also are a great base for homemade noodle cups.

8. Food Empire Cafe Pho Instant Iced Milk Coffee

I’m not much of a coffee fan, but my husband is — and he swears by these instant Vietnamese iced coffee sachets, as they are more flavorful than any other brand he’s tried. Plus, they only need hot tap water and ice to produce what he finds to be a fantastic cup of Vietnamese-style iced coffee, so they are both convenient and delicious. He keeps some in his office for a quick and easy cup.

Are you driving over an hour to the grocery store? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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