This blog post was updated on August 26, 2021.
Rice, spice, and aromas that are sure to entice—is your stomach grumbling yet? In a country that boasts over 880 spoken languages and vaunts the influence of over a dozen mighty ancient empires (Greek, Mughal, Dutch & French, just to name a few!), it’s no wonder why Indian foods are as diverse as India itself. These days, India has spread its influence across the globe, with millions of its citizens living overseas. Luckily for you, that means you don’t have to hop on a plane or dish out the cash for cheap flight deals and head to India to sample some of its decadent dishes.
Instead, let us take you on a food tour to some of the most prominent Little India neighborhoods across the globe. Read on to see where you can get a taste of India, no matter where you are in the world!
Jackson Heights, Queens, New York
New York City. The diversity here is unending, with innumerable choices when it comes to dining options and culinary novelty. But where can you go for a plate of Indian food, that’ll make you feel like you’re feasting in Nani-ji’s (maternal grandma) kitchen? Jackson Heights, Queens.
When it comes to ethnic diversity, Queens arguably takes the cake. Historically, Jackson Heights has seen many influxes of various ethnic groups settling into the area, but today when you take a stroll down Roosevelt Avenue (the neighborhood’s busiest street), you’ll find the street dotted with colorful saris adorned by the neighborhood’s South Asian women and filled with savory aromas in the air from the abundant local Indian eateries and markets in every corner.
What to eat: Momos
Although you’ll find some fantastic Indian eats throughout all of NYC, the specialty of Jackson Heights is that the food here, much like the neighborhood and residents themselves, is diverse and distinct. For a truly unique experience, we highly suggest trying some momos — South Asian dumplings native to Tibet, Nepal and the northern regions of India such as Assam and Darjiling. Today, momos are one of the most popular street foods throughout India and, sadly, not an easy find on the Western Hemisphere. These dumplings very closely resemble Japanese gyoza and Chinese bao on the outside but don’t be fooled. On the inside, you’ll find a tasty surprise of sensational South Asian flavors and spices.
Flights to India may come at a hefty price, so how can you get some budget-travel in and indulge in authentic Indian cuisine, too? Grab some cheap flight deals to visit our neighbors of the north! Canada is home to almost two million South Asians, with a history tracing back to the early beginnings of the 20th century. In 1903, a group of Punjabi Sikhs arrived in British Columbia and the rest was history. After decades of being victim to cruse racial profiling and struggling with the government for their rights, the number of South Asian immigrants and migrant families still managed to continuously grow and eventually became one of the most prominent ethnic groups in Canada (and North America in general). Today, if you take a walk on Gerrard Street East, between Coxwell Avenue and Greenwood Avenue in Toronto, you’ll find one of the largest and oldest Indian marketplaces in North America (and trust us, there are quite a few).
Established not too long after Bangladesh’s independence, The Gerrard India Bazaar isn’t just one of the largest Little Indias it’s also one of the most diverse. Here, Indians, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis all live and work in harmony and collaboration, which lead to it’s becoming one of the most colorful and tastiest neighborhoods in all of Toronto. The friendly shop owners are always happy to help you choose the right spices to buy or even show you how to pick the perfect mango! And if you’re here to eat, we suggest that you come empty-stomached…because when you leave you’ll be anything but.
What to eat: Chole (Chana) Bhatura
The culinary possibilities to choose from here are endless. You can have a piece of naan bread fresh from the clay tandoor oven or nosh on a dosa from a South Indian all-vegetarian menu. Whatever you decide to eat, all we have to say is that you can’t leave without tasting the Chole Bhatura — a Punjabi combination dish made of Chole or Chana (chickpeas cooked in a spicy sauce) and bhatura (soft and puffy fried bread made from white flour), from Moti Mahal — the oldest Indian restaurant in Toronto and a long-time Little India favorite.
Southall, London, England
Quick history lesson: in 1947, the northern area of the subcontinent (Punjab) was partitioned, with half falling into the area of modern-day Pakistan and the other in India. It was a difficult and gory split that caused unimaginable strife and displaced thousands of Punjabis for decades. As a result, many Punjabis sought opportunities abroad, London being one of the first places they started settlements in. While London is home to innumerable ethnic enclaves, including many specifically South Asian ones such as the famous Bangladeshi community on Brick Lane, it was the Punjabis that settled in this outpost of west London, who came in large numbers and gave Southall its distinct Indian identity.
Little India in Southhall, London dates back to the 1950s. (If you’ve seen the popular soccer movie Bend it Like Bekham, you’ll recognize this neighborhood, immediately!) Between its proximity to the airport and a former British Indian Army officer recruiting for jobs at his local factory, the promise of a new life and new possibilities brought in a huge influx of Indian immigrants to this area. After decades of facing extreme discrimination and hardships, alas in the 1980s, the South Asian population here quickly grew into the robust, thriving community that it is known to be today.
What to eat: Jalebi
Come hungry, leave happy. That’s essentially the motto of any of the dozens of piquant, mouthwatering Indian restaurants in Southall. But before you leave, you should definitely satisfy your sweet tooth with a syrupy, spiraled jalebi. What’s so special about this dessert, you ask? Jalebis are an unwavering staple in Indian cuisine. These deep-fried, pretzel-shaped, sugar-drenched confections know no north, south, east or west; anywhere you go in the world to try Indian food, you’re sure to find jalebi on the menu and in Southhall, the authentic sweet treats are simply some of the best.
Have any Little Indias to add to the list? We’d love to hear about them, so be sure to tell us in the comments below!