One of my favorite activities is going into ethnic grocery stores and picking up new and weird foods and figuring out how to use them. I treat it as a cheap holiday, being transported to another culture for the price of a Metrocard ticket. It always helps to know what to look for though!
So if you ever want to head into an Indian grocery store and try some goodies (in NYC, try going to Jackson Heights, Queens), here is a list of foods you might enjoy:
1. Paneer: This mild cheese is very versatile and sold in blocks or cubes in the refrigerated or frozen sections. I find that Nanak brand paneer from Canada is very rich and flavorful, but it might not be available everywhere. Paneer can be used in all kinds of recipes, like wraps and pilafs and curries.
2. Chai: Indian black tea is very intense and flavorful. Buy it loose or in tea bags, and spice it up with cloves/ginger/cardamom/lemongrass to make masala chai.
3. Mango puree: This is sold in cans and is very convenient when you want to make smoothies, mango lassi, homemade ice cream and even margaritas.
4. Spices: The spice rack is dazzling in Indian stores, and spices are very reasonably priced. You will get whole spices and a lot of spice mixtures.
5. Flours: Indian stores are a good source for a variety of flours, including rice flour, gram flour (chickpea flour), millet flour, whole wheat flour (atta) etc.
6. Dried beans: You will find dozens of varieties of dried legumes in Indian stores, including kidney beans, mung beans and lentils. They are a cheap source of protein and very versatile.
7. Basmati rice: This fragrant highly polished rice is something I love to use for special occasions. Indian stores carry a number of rice varieties, including medium grain rice like Sona masoori and brown rice.