The Spice Store fills a gap with its Indian spices and products

It’s a long way from Kerala, to Dubai, to Prince Edward Island, but that is the spice route that lead Ramila Agrawal to open a popular spice store on St Peter’s Road in Charlottetown.

Agrawal, originally from southern India, spent most of her life in the United Arab Emirates working in logistics for electronics giant Emerson.

“This is really my first time as an entrepreneur,” she said. “I looked at doing something similar in Dubai but between my work and the regulations there it didn’t happen. But here on PEI it’s going well. Every month we expand our product lines. We’ve had a lot of feedback from customers which keeps us in touch with what they want.”

The store is carrying more and more fresh produce from India as well including Indian cucumber, yams, moringa (drumstick vegetable), amla (Indian Gooseberry), and fresh curry leaves.

She arrived in Canada in 2016 and opened The Spice Store in November 2017.

She said India is a very large country with a multitude of languages, customs, cultures, and food. When people eat “Indian food” that can mean many things. Broadly, Indian food has some basics shared across most regions: the use of pulses like gram, dal, and lentils, to the prevalence of heavily spiced gravies or curries.

Regions can be as small as a town or as big as a state or province and variations exist on all of them.

“If you have a curry at a restaurant or in someone’s home it can be different from each other but also different every time it is made,” Agrawal said.

She said that roughly there are four big regions:

The north, which uses lots of dairy, like milk, paneer, ghee, and yogurt. Samosas and naan also come from the north;

The south, where curries are drier, less like stews than other areas. Dosas and pappadums are also popular in the south;

The east, where curries are spiced a little lighter and fish is popular. Sweets such as chenna come from this region;

The west, abounding with vegetarian dishes and chutneys. This area was also heavily influenced by the Portuguese including flavours of vinegar and wine. The most famous western Indian dish is probably vindaloo which comes from the phrase carne de vinha d’alhos Portuguese for “meat in garlic wine marinade.”

The Spice Store carries enough variety that Indo-Canadians can replicate their favourite dishes. For anyone interested in trying their hand at Indian cooking, Agrawal and her staff are very helpful, although she joked, “People have asked me to teach a cooking class. They must be very brave.”

But if you come and ask questions she is more than happy to help.

The store itself is actually pretty helpful. It’s got three wide aisles of custom wood shelving and everything is clearly marked in English.

“In India food is something that we think should be revered or honoured. We don’t just throw it around. I want the store to be clean and inviting.”

Agrawa said PEI has become very international very fast. “I think it is good. You learn that everyone is the same.”

The Spice Store is located at 127 St Peters Road in Charlottetown.

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also likes writing about food. Go figure.

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