Prospect of little ‘dal chawal’ at US homes

New York, August 16:

The Indian government’s decision to ban the export of dal (lentils) has hit Indian Americans hard. The ban, imposed in June, has resulted in the commodity getting scarce in Indian grocery stores in the US, with prices almost doubling at some places.

“The minute the ban was announced, wholesalers put up the price,” Jalil Hay, owner of an Indian grocery store in Stockton, California, told India New England, an ethnic newspaper. “Prices have almost doubled and tripled.” Mahendra Patel, owner of Raja Foods in New York, told the Newsday newspaper that he increased the dal prices after the Indian ban came into effect.

Normally, he charged his customers 50 to 60 cents a pound, but now prices have shot up to $1.10 to $1.20 a pound. Patel supplies groceries to more than 300 Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi stores in the New York area. A staple in Indian meals, the commodity comes in different varieties. Though lentils are produced in other countries too, the Indian lentils are regarded as being of superior quality.

“No other country processes lentils like India,” said Kavita Mehta, owner of the Minneapolis-based Indian Foods Company. “Many (lentils) are split and hulled and (India) does it the best.” “It’s a basic food item. It’s like if the US (government) would say you can’t get salt in America,” said Neil Soni, owner of House of Spices, a New York-based Indian food wholesale company.

The situation is no different at Dana Bazar, a busy Indian grocery in Fremont, California. “We drove all the way here, then we find out that they are not going to let us have the dal,” one woman complained, according to a report in the Voice of America website. “It is kind of an integral part of life, I mean every day we need it,” said another customer. The Indian government’s decision came in the wake of a drought that severely affected agricultural output.

Jagat Patel of the Indian Association of Greater Danbury in Connecticut told Danbury News that though the potential shortage will mostly hurt business owners, customers could increasingly feel the pinch. “That’s the main source of protein for most Indian families that are vegetarian,” he said.

With no signs of the situation improving in the near future, many Indian Americans are resorting to rationing. “I used to make sambar or dal at least twice a week,” Nagasree Satya of Nashua, New Hampshire, told India New England. “But I have now reduced that to once a week.” Many are reportedly also resorting to hoarding the commodity.

Ajit Kaushal, owner of Bombay Trading Company in Concord, told the East Bay Express that he was appealing to people not to start hoarding. “It will only make the prices go higher.” According to the report, since early July, Kaushal has had to double the price, which is currently at $2 a pound. With the ban expected to stay in place at least till March next year, Indian Americans are faced with the prospect of little ‘dal-chawal’ at home.