I wish I could take enough pictures to show you what the Mustafa Centre is like. Imagine Super Walmart--the one with the everything plus groceries. Set it down in the middle of Little India. Make the ceilings half as high and the aisles half as wide. Instead of a single story, make it four (at least). Instead of a single entrance and exit, give it several at different levels on all sides of the building. Instead of lining up the aisles, completely change their orientation every 50 yards or so. Staff it exclusively with Indian men and women. Instead of one bank of cashiers, scatter them all over the store on different floors in each "department." When you pay for your purchases, they'll bag them and seal your bag with a pink zip tie. Staff each entrance and exit with security guards to check bags coming in, and look for the zip ties going out. Fill it with everything you can think of, and then leave at least as much space for things you would never think of. Keep it open 24 hours, and make sure that during the rush hour, at least half the population of Singapore is there.

In short, it is amazing, and I love it.

Last week I found an amazing cookbook at the library, Mangoes and Curry Leaves. If you have any interest in Indian food or the Subcontinent, you should check this out. The Washington Post called it "part travel essay and part recipe journal" and that's exactly what is so awesome about it. I picked it up as I was leaving the library, and I almost returned it this week because I wanted other things and I have a check out limit, but I'm so glad I didn't. I sort of want to keep it now. That's probably not wise in Singapore.

I had Friday off this week, so I spent all night Thursday night reading vignettes and recipes, and by Friday morning had quite a collection of post-its stuck in the pages. So I set out to make a Subcontinent feast:

  • yogurt-marinated chicken kebabs with tart mango salsa
  • Sri Lankan village salad of cucumbers, onions, and coconut milk
  • Bangladeshi "sour" dal with a hint of lime
  • tamarind-mint tea
Of course I had to go to Mustafa for supplies. I had a fairly short list, having a lot of things already. But it took me a while all the same. I stood in an aisle of dal (lentils), beans, and split peas looking for the masoor dal my recipe called for. There were bags of lentils stacked taller than my head in dark browns, pale greens, yellows, and muted reds. I asked a girl shopping with her mother if "masur" and "masoor" were the same thing, but she didn't know.

I needed several spices, and there's a McCormick display, so I scanned the rack and grabbed a ping pong ball sized jar of turmeric for $2.30. A little while later, I wandered into an aisle full of spices in big bags and boxes. There was a whole section of turmeric. I was standing there looking between my tiny $2.30 jar and the cereal box-sized package priced at .90 when a group of Indian men joined me. One was busy showing his companions something on the shelves, but the oldest gentleman noticed my confusion. "Do you need help?" he asked. "Well," I answered. "Are these the same?" He replied, "You have to ask him," pointing to the talkative one. "He's my chef." The chef joined me and assured me that turmeric is turmeric, and asked if I had any other questions. I asked about masur vs. masoor (the same), and he scanned my shopping list. "Ah, cooking Indian?" he asked. "Well, I'm trying," I answered. "You'll live a long life," he assured me, and after they all wished me luck, they went their way, and I took my cereal box of turmeric and searched for the next ingredient.

Tamarind pulp was a little tougher to find. I asked someone and was directed to aisle 27 and 28. I found an aisle labeled garlic paste and tamarind paste. Yet I found nothing but shelves full of garlic or garlic and ginger paste. I was standing there scanning the labels when another shopper wandered in. "What are you looking for?" he asked, this time a Chinese man with a Western accent I couldn't quite place (New Zealand, maybe?). I told him and he agreed that they had to have it, but he couldn't see it either. A few minutes later he passed by again. "Still looking?" "Yep." After an exhaustive search I gave up, stepped out of the aisle, and almost ran into my friend. "Here!" he said, handing me a package of tamarind pulp. "I found it in aisle three. I don't know how much you need, but there are other sizes."

Thanks to my helpers, I left with everything on the list and came hope and made a pretty good meal. (Kyle said it was fantastic.) Now I just need to figure out how many times I can renew this cookbook, because I have a lot of post-its left.

Green mango salsa with cilantro that we ate with the grilled/broiled chicken.

Sri Lankan salad with cucumber, red onion, lime juice and coconut milk that was fantastic!