Just inside the door of the Around the World Market, customers come face to face with a golden statue of Shri Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed Hindu god renowned for removing obstacles and providing good fortune.
He’s done a good job here. University City residents will have no problem finding traditional Indian foods and sweets, colorful silk saris, or even a Ganesha of their own at this new market on North Tryon Street near Tom Hunter Road.
The market, which opened Oct. 5, is a clean, colorful collection of edibles and goods, mostly from India, with additional imports from the U.K., Europe, Africa, Thailand, Mexico and more thrown in for good measure.
“We have things from all around the world,” Paresh Patel proclaimed proudly.
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Patel, the store’s designer and a tireless worker, is happy to smilingly steer a newcomer on an impromptu tour of the aisles.
“I would say 90 percent of what we have is Indian,” he said, “but the other 10 percent is from all around the world. So, our name.”
Patel stopped in front of a wall of Indian teas in bright boxes, with names like “Taj Mahal.” There is also tea from Kenya, coffee from Madras, and real masala chai.
“In teas, India is No. 1, right?” he said. “And so it has been for years.”
Beside the tea was a wide assortment of powdered drinks popular in the tropics. Voicing a global concern, Patel scowled: “Most of them are for children, for the kids. Full of sugar!”
A blur of energy, Patel took his leave and headed off to handle store duties and greet more customers.
Around the World is like a museum, though, and there was plenty to keep me occupied. The plenty began with a shiny collection of Indian kitchen utensils, including special gadgets for cooking such Indian breads as idli.
The next section is incense in decorated boxes, with names like 7 African Powers and Maha Laxmi, a mellow sandalwood-based tribute to the Hindu goddess of wealth.
Part of one wall is devoted to statues of religious icons for sale, mostly Ganesha and other gods of the Vedantic pantheon, but a few non-Hindu deities, too. They sit peacefully side by side on the shelf, a hopeful sign in this fractious world.
A big flat screen loudly played flashy Bollywoodesque song-and-dance numbers, reinforcing awareness of a shrinking world, one simultaneously filled with sharp divisions and deep similarities.
At the front of the store is the Puja Boutique, featuring a designer collection of “dresses, kurtis, saris and chania choli” (the traditional tight, tummy-revealing blouse and long, flowing skirt).
Delicate embroidery sparkling with silver and gold decorates the rainbows of rich silks and other traditional fabrics, from deep purple-reds to brilliant yellows.
All those are just warm-up acts for Around the World’s main attraction: Food.
Around the World builds on 15 years of experience in Raleigh and Durham, where its two stores are the largest Indian food market in the Triangle.
The new Charlotte location has the big bags of bulk rice, legumes and flours, piled in imposing sacks typical of Asian and international markets.
It also has a fresh produce section, with hard-to-find vegetables including doodhi (bright green bottle gourd), karela (bitter melon), and curry leaves. There’s a dairy section with bulk Indian yogurt and cheese, and an inviting assortment of tropical juice drinks.
Beyond those basics, tall glass doors line much of the store’s walls. Behind them, shelves are crowded with frozen Indian dishes you can easily cook at home.
There’s ponk (a roasted green millet treat that is a winter Indian street food tradition) and somosas and curries – the choices go on and on. In a neat reversal of North Carolina habits, most are vegetarian, though the store does have a small meat-eater section, so nobody feels left out.
A good meal deserves a worthy desert. There’s a full selection of kulfi (Indian ice cream), including the classic Kesar Pista, a blend of pistachio and saffron.
You can purchase bags of sugar-coated fennel and bright green mukhwas, sweet and savory treats to nibble after a meal. And up front, in a case, there are fresh Indian sweets such as pink cham-cham and golden brown galab jamun, made in New York and flown in, according to store manager Mita Patel.
She said the store is off to a good start, and she hopes it will attract lots of local customers, even before the light rail line is finished along North Tryon. In Raleigh, the also has a small restaurant, though one does not yet exist at the Charlotte location.
Around the World is already getting ready for Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, which begins in early November this year, Mita Patel said. At the front of the store, near the fresh sweets and the statue of Ganesha, a small table is already covered with brightly hand-painted kodia (simple clay lamps) for traditional lighting to celebrate the holiday, on sale five for $5.
Although Around the World Market is located in a typical Carolina streetscape, on North Tryon between Old Hickory Barbecue and Auto Bell Car Wash, it is a gateway to a different world, and an “out of Charlotte” experience well worth a visit.