"Where am I going to find dried shrimp by this weekend?" I asked my wife in a panic. It was Thursday night, and this was the one ingredient I still needed for a Sunday Asian brunch. I didn't have an afternoon to go to Chinatown, much less a week to wait for a catalog. So I went on-line and, with a few searches and a charge card, I had FedEx delivering dried shrimp (and 20 other items--I got a little carried away) at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday. Some sites haven't mastered overnight shipping. But the Internet will soon be the easiest way to buy ethnic foods. I've chosen the best overall sites for Indian, Chinese, French, Eastern Mediterranean and Latin-American groceries. Plus, for each cuisine I've included a site for a single specialty, from baklava to peppers.
Best overall site: India Plaza www.indiaplaza.com
India Plaza, which has stores in India, the United States and the U.K., sells a wide variety of ingredients, including basmati rice, curry pastes and powders, dozens of types of lentils and mango pickles.
Ease of use: Product descriptions are limited, and it's difficult to find specific ingredients if you don't know much about Indian food. Everything is organized alphabetically, but some items are listed by brand while others are listed by generic ingredient name.
Bottom line: The prices are competitive with markets in New York City's Little India and much lower than elsewhere on-line. And the service is friendly and knowledgeable. But the great deal has drawbacks: My order took a week to arrive, despite a request for expedited shipping.
Best specialty site: Surati Farsan Mart | www.suratifarsan.com
This Los Angeles-area dessert and snack shop is highly regarded by the city's Indian community. Its Web site sells exotic Indian sweets made in the store, such as ghari (a pistachio-and-cashew confection), badam barfi (almond candy) and choorma ladoo (cream-of-wheat balls), as well as snacks, including papdi gathiya (gram-flour chips) and chevdo (rice puffs mixed with peanuts and raisins).
Ease of use: The site supplies detailed product descriptions and some photographs, which are helpful for the uninitiated.
Bottom line: Most items are reasonably priced, between $5 and $7 a pound, and my box of sweets arrived promptly.