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Favorite Ethnic Markets: India Plaza

This is the time of year when folks in Phoenix head for cooler pastures, and it's time to travel the world if you can. But, if your vacation this summer is a staycation, you can still feed your inner globetrotter by heading to India, Africa, and Russia -- via several of the Valley's interesting ethnic grocers.

Today's Favorite Ethnic Market: India Plaza

India Plaza 1874 E Apache Blvd Tempe, AZ 85281 480-557-8800

In India, over 11 million people a day take the train via Indian Railways. In Tempe, though, you can take the Valley's light rail straight to a taste of India. In fact, there's a rail stop right in front of India Plaza, where you can indulge in exotic sights and smells, as well as the attached café, The Dhaba.

Raveen Arora is the owner, and a charming host. He's on hand to help navigate the heady array of flavors here in this three-room shop.

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Room one is an array of fresh produce that includes some delicious looking squashes that we spotted recently. Aisles are lined with bags of rice, like the 25 pound bags stitched up with the India Plaza logo (note - carefully unstitch the top to empty out the rice and you've got a cute shopping tote for the farmers market). Loads of intriguing items abound, like nigella seeds for about 5 bucks for a pack. Packaged and frozen goods are here too, in case you need to whip out a paneek paneer for dinner and pass it off as your own. And if you ever need five-pound bags of tumeric and paprika, this is your spot.

More spices and beauty products take up the next room, where you'll fine neem oil, the luxurious beauty oil used throughout Southeast Asia. Great for hair and skin, but be warned - it reeks. Mustard oil fans can also stock up here, with a great selection and prices from $2 to $6.

The last room is filled with clothes and decorative items -- cute sparkly shoes for under 20, and cotton skirts in eye-popping colors for around $25. If you're looking for a carved Ganesh (our favorite Hindu diety; he's the remover of obstacles), you've hit the jackpot. Brass, wood, or marble, it's all here.

Maybe Ganesh can help remove our aversion to an extended, chart-topping month of summer heat.

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