Through some travesty of justice, Taco Bell is consistently voted “Best Mexican” in Omaha. I personally choose to believe this has more to do with people’s lack of experience than their true belief that a Doritos Locos Taco is really the ultimate ethnic experience. Spaghetti Works always walks away with an award for “Best Italian,” and while we can all appreciate a hearty struggle meal, Emeril Lagasse would grimace at it being called anything more than Fast Casual American Fare.
However, the tide is slowly turning for some of Omaha’s most intrepid restaurateurs. Truly authentic establishments are finding their place at the table as diners expand their understanding.
It’s been exciting to explore these exotic offerings, and it also got us thinking: Why dine out when you can DIY?
Just kidding. We would much rather dine out than do dishes. However, once in a while, pulling off an exotic meal in your own kitchen or surprising your Baba with an authentic dish from the homeland can add a lot of wow-factor to family dinner.
In that spirit, we decided to take a tour and find out just how much of this great big world we can see from Omaha’s storefront.
Most of the Indian cuisine your average American diner is familiar with is actually considered Anglo-Indian. When British colonies were introduced to the spices and methods of Indian culture, recipes were adapted to accommodate the palate. If you’ve enjoyed a spicy mulligatawny or a kicky curry, or if you’ve never met a chutney you didn’t love, you’re a fan of Anglo-Indian. For those seeking an authentic plate, we know the best way to start!¬¬
Tulsi Indian Groceries
2455 S. 132nd St.
Find ingredients for the perfect Thali meal, fresh herbs and vegetables, and even imported hair care and grooming items at Tulsi Indian Groceries. An adjoining café allows diners to experience the possibilities the store’s many spices and sauces can help them create. Offerings are available to fans of both traditional Indian dishes and the British counterparts served in most Indian restaurants.
While the shop is small, the bulk spices at reasonable prices are a must to stock your kitchen with aromatics, rice varieties, lentils, chickpeas and
myriad flours. The frozen food section offers numerous desserts, pre-made meals and specialty frozen vegetables.
The owner, Deepa K, wants to create more than availability. He and his staff work to create understanding, offering guidance in-store and even sharing recipes with anyone who asks. And if you truly want to skip the dishes, palm leaf plates can be purchased for a sustainable and disposable option.
Patel Grocers (recently rebranded as Konark Grocers)
14128 Arbor St.
Imported snacks, oils, spices and deep greens can be purchased at this chain, found in Denver, Des Moines and Omaha. The establishment goes beyond offering ingredients; it offers a lesson in culture and sincere service.
Konark has a wider variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs than Tulsi, but each offers something the other doesn’t, making their close proximity fortunate for those hoping to stock their kitchens.
3548 Q St.
With three locations in Omaha, convenience is key in making this selection. Home to a pretty standard variety of produce, harder-to-find items can be spied from time to time. The sight and smell of the fresh tortillas being pressed in-store are enough to inspire you to dig a little deeper into the history and flavors of our southern neighbors.
4621 S. 24th St.
If you’ve ever stood in line for 45 minutes for fresh hot flautas, you might be a South Omahan. If you’ve ever snacked on the chips and salsa until you were so full you put your lunch back in the fridge, you might be a South Omahan. If you’ve never been into Jacobo’s at all, you might be about to regret the years you didn’t know. But now you know.
Super Carniceria El Pueblito
5116 S. 24th St.
The emphasis on maintaining the integrity of each traditional dish is what sets Super Carniceria El Pueblito apart from the “ethnic” aisle at your standard grocer. The meat selection will remind you that you’re in Nebraska, but everything else is straight south of the border.
2455 S. 120th St.
Imagine coming home to your mom’s house after weeks away. You’re invited to sit, offered a snack and brought a cup of tea or coffee. Once you’ve eaten, you’re told that you’re hungry and need food.
This is the experience waiting for you at Jerusalem Grocery. The only difference is that this time “mom” is a gentleman from Nazareth who charges you for the food you take from the place that somehow feels like home.
Take home some store-made tabbouleh, hummus, baba ganouj or yogurt, or let someone help you locate the ingredients to make any of these dishes yourself. Buy a box of Turkish Delights for your next family gathering, or enjoy a walk down the spice aisle for a little inspiration.
Asian Market Omaha
321 N. 76th St.
The live shrimp and blue crabs wiggling around behind the counter stare at you with bright, clear eyes, daring you to think of something better than butter to cook them in. Fortunately, you’re surrounded by Okinawan purple sweet potatoes, Daikon radish and sesame nori. You’ll think of something.
I first wandered into Asian Market looking for a specific tea a friend had missed since returning to the U.S. I left with what amounted to a $70 Chopped mystery basket and a burning desire to learn to use ingredients I’d never heard of. My first foray into jackfruit usage taught me that nobody can use an entire jackfruit. Much of what you’ll find on the shelves comes sans an English translation, and while the staff lacks the frenetic energy of your standard Reader writer, they are eager to help at their own peaceful pace.
The produce is fresh, in spite of the obvious journey required to get fruits and vegetables that are reluctant to grow on American soil. Each of the establishment’s thousands of goods deserves its own paragraph, but I have a strict and cruel word limit, so you’ll simply have to enjoy your own Asian Market adventure.
If you have enjoyed the experience at Lalibela, Ethiopian Restaurant or International Café, why not give the ingredients a go? The shop, sometimes called Ethiopian Market and sometimes called East Africa and Middle East Grocer, is located in the same building as Ethiopian Restaurant.
The grocery side offers everything you need to create the dishes you’ll find in the small café, from injera to Masala. So you can dish, dine and do your grocery shopping in one warm and fragrant location.
As Omaha continues to deepen its appreciation of cultures and cuisines, we hope to see more access for those who have come from far away. A taste of home can bring us all a little closer together.