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A taste of India in Sweetwater

A Sweetwater shop near Florida International University offers Indian students a taste of home.

By Rodolfo Roman

Special to the Herald

When Anjan Sampath arrived in the United States from India to study telecommunications at Florida International University, he faced a culture shock — especially when it came to food.

Luckily for him, he later got an e-mail from friends alerting Sampath that an Indian store had just opened in nearby Sweetwater.

Four years later, Spice N Curry at 123 SW 107th Ave. remains the hang-out spot for Sampath and his Indian friends for traditional foods and spices from his native country. It has serves as a prime venue for vegans and vegetarians looking to stock up on staples such as beans and rice.

“Finding an Indian store is difficult in Miami,” said Sampath, who still lives nearby and stopped by to purchased some spices on a recent visit. “It was hard to find Indian food when I came here.”

Located next to the well-known Nicaraguan restaurant Los Ranchos, Spice N Curry opened in 2007. Owner Abhijeet Jay Mazumdar is originally from Bombay — now known as Mumbai.

The people have shown me love here,” said Mazumdar, 33, who used to live in Sweetwater and now lives in Miami Beach with his wife and their 8-year-old daughter.

Mazumdar arrived in the United States in 2001 and earned a masters degree in finance from The University of Florida. Once he graduated, he worked for the Target corporation and a real estate company, but he was laid off due to the recession.

“I always wanted to do something from a business standpoint,” he said.

When the store opened, it was about 900 square feet. Mazumdar said the store was so popular he had no choice but to expand. This year, he doubled the size of the shop. The store is actually located where Los Ranchos once had a dining area.

“It was a small store but there was no room for customers,” he said. “People demanded more of a variety.”

In Sweetwater, it is common to hear the languages of Spanish and English but inside Spice n Curry most customers communicate speaking India’s language, Hindi.

“Language happens to be a barrier, but humans find away to communicate,” said Mazumdar.

FIU alumnus Atul Pazare stopped by on a recent Saturday to indulge on a samosa, a traditional, triangular shaped pastry from India which could include potatoes, onions, peas or ground beef and flavored with coriander. He studied at the university’s engineering center, which is with walking distance. The school’s computer and engineering programs attract a fair number for foreign students from India and Asia.

“This is our hangout place,” he said. “We come here to drink Chai tea and eat.”

He is employed by a construction company, but swings by the shop for a samosa after work almost every day.

FIU students and customers can find almost everything from India including more than 50 types of spices, teas, and even beer like Taj Mahal. A crowd favorite in India, Frooti, a mango juice, is also sold along with different flavors of an Indian ice cream called Kulfi. Most of the products are imported from India, while some of the goods are from local suppliers. Vegetables like bottle gourds are also sold, as well butter made from buffalo milk.

For college students, Spice N Curry has a wide variety of frozen Indian vegetables stored in refrigerators for purchase. Non-meat eaters have a long list of choices including vegetables not typically found in regular supermarkets like brinjal, an eggplant.

Yet, the store serves to more than just Indian customers.

Nina Madriz, who was born in Nicaragua and lives nearby, came to purchase a special chili powder part of a recipe for a shrimp dish.

“You can’t find this anywhere,” she said.

The ambience inside the store is quite unique compared to its surrounding restaurants. A portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, the iconic political leader of India during the Indian independence movement, hangs on the wall. Kurtas, traditional loose-fitting shirts for men and women in a variety of bright colors like orange and turquoise .

There is also a small cafeteria where Mazumdar serves tea and cooks several traditional dishes like curry chicken and lentil soup.

He said it is the spot for students on a budget.

“Indian restaurants in Miami are generally upscale,” he said. “It is too much for a student.”

Mazumdar – who travels to India to visit family every few years – said although he has the only Indian shop in predominately Hispanic Sweetwater, it’s nonetheless a good fit.

“The beauty of this is that you meet a lot of people,” he said.

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