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Neelam Pacific Market: a big Indian grocer in a little space.

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Neelam Pacific Market

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Until they repainted their awning last year, the owners of Neelam Pacific Market weren't entirely clear about what was inside. I walked by it almost every day and didn't learn it was--at least from an American midwesterner's point-of-view--an Indian grocery until India Foods (on San Bruno Avenue) shut down and posted a note in the window that the remaining stock was sold to Neelam.

The "Pacific" in the name is the product of San Bruno's sui generis ethnic makeup, and (giving it more thought) could mean quite a few things. In this case it means Fijian, and more specifically Indo-Fijian. Those looking for Tongan or Samoan (or indigenous Fijian) specialties would have better luck finding them up the street at Fiji Market. What this means in a practical sense is that Neelam Pacific Market sells pilot crackers and canned mutton in addition to Indian staples.

It's a small store--one could probably fit two Neelam Pacific Markets into (now-reopened) India Foods and four to Sunnyvale's India Cash and Carry--but that is to its advantage. Not unlike Trader Joe's, with few exceptions Neelam stocks a well-chosen one of everything. There's some redundancy where recipes matter, in the chutney and pickle section and the freezer case with pre-made flatbreads, but in the dry goods aisle the choice is between small and large packages of beans, flours, or spices.

Quality is generally high, both in the groceries and the fresh produce bins at the front. For example, the chickpea flour (besan) sold at Lucky is full of difficult-to-hydrate clumps, but the chickpea flour from Neelam is pre-sifted and mixes readily into a batter. Most prices are good, and the price of the spices is excellent: this is where to come to buy cardamom, cloves, or Indian oddities like kala jeera. The only goods that seem overpriced are some of the more common pulses. Chickpeas, red beans, and black-eyed peas are all of the same Indian import brand as the urad dal and split mung beans, even though domestic brands are half the price.

No hot food is sold at Neelam, but the refrigerator and freezer cases are full of convenience foods that can be quickly heated off the premises. Pre-made roti or parathas puff up cook up quickly on a crepe pan and with some chutney or leftovers make a satisfying quick meal. Ready-to-cook dosa batter sold by the quart or half-gallon goes a long way, and for those without the time even for that, pre-made potato-stuffed dosas and microwaveable bean and vegetable curries are under $3 per box and much tastier than a typical "TV dinner".

Neelam Pacific Market is located at 492 San Mateo Avenue, in downtown San Bruno. Hours at the time of writing are 10 AM to 8:30 PM Monday through Saturday, and 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays. For more information, phone (650) 583-5024 during business hours.

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