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Photo by Steve LoweryEven though most bollywood movies are known for their mediocre quality and tawdry predictability, I figured if billions of people were in on the party, I wanted to check it out. Bollywood—the "B" is for Bombay (now Mumbai), India's film epicenter—releases an average of more than two movies per day, about 800 per year, making it the world's top movie producer. For my initiation into the world of Bollywood, I was directed to Khyber Bazaar (formerly Unique Bazaar), a tiny shop in a quiet Fountain Valley strip mall right across the street from Mile Square Park.
Khyber Bazaar carries 4,500 Bollywood videos, along with Pakistani dramas and Afghani movies. It also sells Hindi, Pakistani and Afghani music. Oh, and the Bazaar also packs in two aisles of Afghani/Pakistani/Indian/Middle Eastern groceries.
The groceries include an extensive stock of spices; eight types of lentils; different types of rice, including some imported directly from Afghanistan; hard-to-find Afghani snacks; picnic supplies for the Mile Square Park crowd; refrigerated drinks ranging from Vietnamese lychee to Gatorade; and a few vestiges of the British Empire: Ovaltine and Horlicks.
This small unassuming store has serviced local Indian and Indian-American entertainment and grocery needs for the past 20 years. In fact, current owner Kabir Mohmand rented his first Bollywood movie in America at this very store. When he bought the store seven years ago, he decided to expand the inventory to reflect the diverse Desi population in central Orange County and save all of them the trek to Cerritos, Artesia or Mission Viejo, other areas with high concentrations of Desi and Middle Eastern-Americans. The clientele is not just Afghanis, Pakistanis or Indians, however: Kabir's brother Sharif, who tends the store's register, can cite Vietnamese, Mexican, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, Chinese, British and even Tibetan customers as store regulars.
The way each customer greets the brothers as old friends and then lingers to talk at the register gives Khyber Bazaar the feel of a neighborhood general store. Well, a neighborhood general store in the lobby of the United Nations.
Kabir and Sharif both know the five languages that most of their customers speak: Pushtu (Afghani), Farsi, Urdu, Hindi and English. Born and raised in Afghanistan, the Mohmand brothers fled the Soviet invasion of that country with their family 18 years ago. Kabir finished his last year of high school at Los Amigos High School in Fountain Valley. In addition to managing Khyber Bazaar, Kabir teaches Web design at Coastline Community College. At the store, Kabir has served as a cultural ambassador of sorts, introducing customers to the world of Pakistani dramas or Hindi music. Kabir has even launched many customers' love affair with the music of Afghanistan's Elvis: Ahmad Zahir.
Kabir has considered introducing ready-made foods and is planning to expand Khyber Bazaar, but he does not want to relocate. "I could move to a more visible location and maybe sell more Cokes and candy, but that's not the point," he said. "We're a store dedicated to the local community and enjoy our nice and quiet family-friendly environment."
So if you're looking for the warm fuzzy glow of a small neighborhood store where everyone knows your name—an atmosphere completely lost in the kingdom of Costco—Khyber Bazaar might be just the place. And you can pick up a Bollywood hit and some Afghani berries to go.
Khyber Bazaar, 10810 Warner Ave., Ste. 7, Fountain Valley, (714) 962-8879. Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.