You visit Indo-American Store (13760 SW 84th St., Miami) for a bag of dal, a tin of dried green mango-infused chaat masala, or a snack of crisp papadum made of lentil flour. But then something unexpected happens. Two hours later, you're still there, in deep conversation with owner Suresh Sheth as your haul sits nearby, almost forgotten.
"People come and give me knowledge, and I try to give it back," he says, peering over the top of a pair of reading glasses.
If you have an ailment, he has a suggestion. The 70-year-old is a dietician, spiritual adviser, and cook all rolled into one. He's quick to offer a small cup of hot chai, fragrant with the perfume of cinnamon and cloves. Next come fist-size samosas stuffed with smooth, spicy potatoes dyed yellow thanks to heaps of turmeric.
Sheth was born in Gujarat in western India and moved to Chicago, then to Miami, along with his wife, Niru, in 1980 to take an accounting job. By 1984, that work was gone, and in 1985 he opened his small shop tucked into the corner of a burnt-orange shopping plaza.
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SHOW ME HOW
These days, the shelves are lined with assorted, mismatched bottles of spices. Twenty-five-pound bags of basmati rice are stacked on the floor. Sheth advises clients to take green cardamom pods and ginger for digestive problems. Black pepper helps regulate blood pressure. Everyone should try black cumin seed and turmeric. The former is used to treat colds, bruises, and joint pain; the latter is taken throughout India to stave off cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, along with everything from flatulence to diabetes.
Sheth keeps records of his "prescriptions" in mountains of black and blue marble notebooks that teeter behind a small counter. He's quick to show his email inbox or Facebook page, where throngs of regulars extol his advice. But he's quicker to brush it off. What matters most isn't the spices or oils. It's whether people are conscious of what they eat — and of the energy they send out into the world.
"If you put poison in your body," he says, "what do you think will come out?"