A Taste of India at Trader Joe’s

28 Mar

Indian frozen food dinners at Trader Joe’s. Photo by Emily Vallerga

By Emily Vallerga, Spring 2013 Intern

In preparation for the exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, I was asked to catalogue all the Indian foods sold at Trader Joe’s. The presence of Indian food offerings at Trader Joe’s represents one way in which Indian food has taken root in American cuisine as a mainstream staple.

Here are some reflections on the experience:

A sign from a Trader Joe’s store.

For those who are not familiar with Trader Joe’s, it is a grocery store that prides itself on being the trendy, food conscious, neighborhood store. Originating in 1967, in Pasadena, California, Trader Joe’s now boasts 395 stores in 30 states. The products range from organic cage-free eggs, frozen stir-fry vegetables, eggplant palak paneer, and more.

In fact, I was surprised to learn that Trader Joe’s sells around 30 different Indian food products from simmer sauces to frozen dinners. I found boxes of “Indian Fare: Jaipur Vegetables” (which are ready in only five minutes), bags of presumably freshly made tandoori naan, and jars of mango ginger chutney. The products range from simply placing the item in a pot and boiling it, to a product that will enhance any home cooked dish.

From left: mango ginger chutney, Indian Fare – jaipur vegetables, and tandoori naan. Photos by Emily Vallerga

But what makes the Indian food at Trader Joe’s stand out, besides its affordable price, is that it sits on the shelf next to the Indonesian curry, Chinese stir fry, and Spanish sauces. While cataloging, I had to scour each aisle just to find all the little pockets of Indian food throughout the store. I found it particularly intriguing that there was no “Indian Food” or “Hispanic Food” designated areas, but rather all of the ethnic food was intermingled with other foods.

It seems to me that Trader Joe’s believes strongly in bringing tasty, healthy, and flavorful food options from around the world to its customers. In fact, the design of the store suggests a mingling of cultures and food that is non-discriminatory. It creates an environment that is welcoming to all adventurous food lovers.  What do you think?  Is this a sign that Indian food is now American food?

Emily Vallerga, a recent graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, is an intern with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s Indian American Heritage Project.


One response to “A Taste of India at Trader Joe’s

  1. girija

    April 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    That is an interesting angle. Many grocery stores have a separate “ethnic foods” aisle but your write-up highlighted for me how Trader Joe’s really does integrate the items into its shelves. I remember back in 2004, my then boss brought in Trader Joe’s masala dosas in one day for a group lunch at work. I didn’t even know masala dosas could be frozen and then served up by heating them in an oven or microwave. It was quite clever and the product was a reasonable reproduction of the real deal.
    Similarly I have tried new foods like Hungarian eggplant dips, challah bread and all manner of taquitos thanks to Trader Joe’s.


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