PANAMA CITY — When I pulled up to Indo-Pak on Tuesday, boxes of specialty goods from Chicago were being unloaded from a large truck into the Middle Eastern grocery store.
Tayyaba Awan is running the store, while her father, owner Malaka Awan, spends the month in Pakistan. They opened Indo-Pak about two years ago, not long after coming to the U.S.
“I came directly to Panama City,” said Tayyaba, 26. “It’s very good, like it, very quiet. … My friends come with me and go to beach — American, Pakistani, Indian, all friends.”
I had never seen many of the products on the shelves and couldn’t read most of the labels.
“I like coming in here,” said Shannon Bellew of Gadsden, Ala., who was helping her friend, Tayyaba, unload the truck. “Nine times out of 10, if you can’t find it at the grocery store, you can find it here. And it’s fresh, especially the vegetables.”
Fresh vegetables are delivered every two weeks on Thursday afternoons, with Jan. 10 being the first delivery this year. The produce assortment has included eggplant, cilantro, mint, chili, tomatoes, dill, zucchini and squash.
Bellew added, “My boyfriend’s Mexican.” The store’s Mexican cuisine includes El Milagro corn tortillas in the refrigerator.
Tayyaba pointed out big sellers, such as Hummus Tahini.
“People love this,” she said, as she continued to show me other popular items, such as the Fava Beans with Tahini and Olive Verte. “My favorite are the spices and frozen stuff, kabobs and samosa. American people love the samosa.”
In the freezer, she showed me samosa: soy protein in a thin, crispy pastry stuffed with spring vegetables.
“Some bake, but I like to deep-fry,” she said.
The freezer also is filled with Asian cuisine, as well as Jerusalem Foods Falafil and Beef Seekh Kabab, another of Tayyaba’s favorites.
Bags of spices on store shelves include everything from Sadaf Shish Kabab seasoning to Sadaf ground sumac and oregano, or choose from curry and chutney pastes to make your own dishes.
I asked Tayyaba about the bags labeled “Dahi Boundi” and “Dahi Dhulki,” and was told “boundi” means “smallest,” while “dhulki” means “bigger.”
“Boil it and put in yogurt with potato, onion, tomato and coriander,” she said.
As we passed boxes of couscous and tabouli, Tayyaba mentioned her cousins add parsley, tomato and lemon juice to tabouli — “oh, so good.”
A center aisle is filled with bags of rice, including 10 pounds of Brown Basmati, while another section is devoted to lentils. Sweet finds include Ziyad Pomegranate Sauce and Rose Water, while the Jelly Amrood is gelatin-free.
“They got like the best cookies to eat with coffee — dunk ’em,” Bellew said. “She’s introduced me to a tea she makes in the mornings.”
Boxes of Maamoul date-filled cookies are especially popular.
Stephanie Pettis of Panama City mentioned the grocery store to me a couple of months ago when we were talking about her Greek heritage. “Their food is fresh; the quality is good,” Pettis said. “I get big huge things of Greek olives.”
Orlando and Ziyad California grape leaves also are popular, as well as olives and chick peas.
Though I had never stopped at Indo-Pak before this week, I have eaten at restaurants on 15th Street whose owners are customers. I noticed business cards on the counter from Brian Daoud, executive chef and owner of Blue Fig: Mediterranean Cafe & Grill.
“Brian likes pickled turnips and the cheese and some of the fresh vegetables,” Tayyaba said. “Owner of Kabob House buys spices and lentils.”
What: International Food Store
Specialties: Turkish, Iranian, Indian, Pakistani, Middle Eastern, Jamaican, Arabic and Mexican foods, fresh vegetable, lentils, spices, oils and drinks
Where: 1504 W. 15th St., Panama City
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily
Details: (850) 481-0337