Behind the world’s largest Adidas store and the first Apple store in China that opened in a glass mall in Beijing this July, is a hole-in-the-wall piled with sacks of Basmati rice and cans of pure ghee.
The landmark to find Beijing’s only nook selling Indian groceries (it’s so small you can miss it) is a 1.8 million sq feet retail space called the Village, readied pre-Olympics in an embassy and bar district. But there’s a little-known reason beyond Adidas and Apple that makes the area a global village.
It is to this corner grocery managed by an old Chinese couple, that the humble bhindi (lady’s finger) travels from Hong Kong and India. The flour comes from Dubai and the lentils from the US, Australia, Burma and Turkey, due to India’s export restrictions on shipping rice, flour and lentils.
“Chinese import laws are very strict. For example, getting health certification for Haldiram snacks takes a month,’’ said Bangalore native Thomas D’Silva, CEO of the restaurant chain and spice-maker Indian Kitchen management, which runs the store since two years.
Soon, an Indian Kitchen store will open in northeast Dalian to satisfy 300 hungry Indian medical students and Indian businessmen. The students want to cook in their dormitories. But not all shipments reach the store. Some months ago, four tonnes of Indian coriander failed certification because of its high pesticide level and was ‘thrown out,’ said D’Silva, from his Zhuhai office.
Zhuhai, meaning Pearl Sea, is a South China port in the manufacturing hub of Guangdong province. About 20-40 metric tonnes of Indian spices, rice, flour, pickles, pulses, vegetables and even coconut hair oil are shipped monthly to Zhuhai and Shanghai.
Beijing’s estimated 600 Indians still lug supplies from India after every trip home, since one spends almost Rs 6 for 1 yuan. But you can’t pack everything — expats frustrated with Chinese liquid yoghurt come here for thick curd.
I visited the store after months of bhindi deprivation and a futile attempt at Indian restaurant Mirch Masala, where the manager demanded two hours notice for a bhindi order. Here, the vegetable costs 5 RMB or over Rs 30 per dozen.
I also spotted (besan) gram flour labelled Basin Flour.