PUNJAB—Indian Market and Cuisine
As you enter Punjab Indian Market and Cuisine, you are engulfed by the smell of tandoori spices, combined with lively Bollywood music. It is the smell of India and when my mother and I come through the doors we are reminded of eating home cooked food at my grandmother’s and aunt’s homes in New Delhi.
At Punjab Indian Market and Cuisine, shelves are stocked with Indian groceries ranging from fresh vegetables like okra, cauliflower, lentils and eggplant as well as ground coriander and curry powder to pre-packaged and frozen Indian delicacies. The kitchen and eating section feature colorful, handmade Indian fabrics mounted on the walls. This is the place for a quick, inexpensive, yet delicious Indian meal, along with fresh, organic groceries.
Punjab Market is popular among the local Far East and Southeast Asian population. The Burmese community is a large percentage of their clientele. Due to Myanmar’s proximity to India, many of the products and spices in the foods are the same. Many Chinese customers come to buy henna. Many Sikhs come to stock up on groceries on Saturday and Sunday afternoon after attending services at the Alhambra Gurudwara. Indian IT professionals and Cal State LA students have also boosted the customer base of the business.
The market and restaurant are run by two brothers—Amandeep and Tarlochan Singh—with Amandeep working in the grocery store and Tarlochan managing the kitchen. A restaurant run by Punjabi Sikhs increases the likelihood that tasty, authentic North Indian Punjabi-style food awaits you.
The Punjab is a large region in the Northwest Indian Subcontinent, now divided between India and Pakistan. My mother grew up in a Punjabi household in New Delhi, and her mother was born in Lahore, today’s capital of Pakistani Punjab. One of the most defining features of Punjabi culture is its mouthwatering cuisine, which has always been my “comfort food” at home. My mom feels a sense of familiarity as she chats with the brothers in Hindi, Punjabi and occasionally lapses into English. She says that it is nice to find a small, unpretentious haven for honest Punjabi food.
The restaurant serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. My favorite dishes include chicken curry, palak paneer, and daal makhani with a side order of garlic naan and kheer (rice pudding). Daal and sabzi (vegetable dish) have always been the basis of my Punjabi meals at home. When possible, I enjoy a chicken dish, either kabob or curry. It is also a tradition to have a carbohydrate dish alongside your meal, either rice or bread. At home, I typically eat the roti bread, but at restaurants I enjoy garlic naan. Due to its cumbersome preparation process in a tandoor oven, naan is typically only made at restaurants or for large special occasions. The authentic, homestyle food is not too greasy or creamy, and spice levels are customized according to the customer’s taste.
Amandeep and Tarlochan Singh moved to the United States from India in 1997 when their father became a priest at the local Gurudwara, Sikh Temple. The brothers graduated from Alhambra High School and set out to make their mark in the local business scene.
In 2000, Amandeep made the family’s first jump into the food business when he founded Punjab Groceries on Main Street in Alhambra. Tarlochan began by working part time in the business while continuing his studies at Pasadena City College and Cal State LA. Once he completed his bachelor’s degree, he began working full time with Amandeep.
When the Singh brothers embarked on their entrepreneurial endeavor, there were no other Indian grocery stores in the San Gabriel Valley. People had to drive 40 minutes to Artesia’s Little India, for their desired Indian products. Amandeep and Tarlochan saw this as an opportunity to help the local Indian community. They soon developed a loyal clientele based on their fine good, specialized customer service and friendly atmosphere. Some customers suggested that they open a small eating place, so people could buy groceries and eat tasty Punjabi food at one location.
Tarlochan defined his business’ mission as always taking care of the customers. If customers need something, he makes sure to get it for them. With this in mind, the brother’s began planning their expansion into the restaurant scene. However, their first location was too small to add a kitchen, and nearby spaces proved too expensive. Finally, in 2019, they relocated the store and the restaurant to a bigger space, a few blocks down on Las Tunas where they added a kitchen and expanded their produce selection.
The name Punjab means “lands of five rivers,” and its fertile soil produces an abundance of delicious, fresh vegetables, hence giving the state its other title as “the breadbasket of India.” Today, Punjab: Indian Market and Cuisine brings that rich tradition of North Indian food to the San Gabriel Valley.
PUNJAB—Indian Market and Cuisine, 618 W. Las Tunas Dr. San Gabriel, 91775. (626) 576-0749
Nikhil Misra-Bhambri is a resident of Altadena, California. He is the son of Indian immigrants, and his father is a professor at USC in the business school, while his mother is a lawyer. Nikhil recently graduated from USC with a bachelors in history. Currently, he is working towards his career as a freelance journalist. His hobbies include reading about history/politics/religion, travel, writing, learning languages, exercising, and eating at new restaurants.