Our guide to celebrating India's independence and experiencing South Asian culture.
Tue Aug 11 2009
At noon on Sunday 16, the India Day Parade, a celebration of the country’s independence from colonial British rule, will begin moving down Madison Avenue, starting at 48th Street and ending at Madison Square Park. Along the way you’ll find more than 60 stalls serving regional Indian cuisine and droves of people dressed in saffron, white and green. Leading the brilliantly colored floats is grand marshal and Bollywood superstar Shilpa Shetty. Watch for the dhol drummers—every year, the crowd joins in for a fervent bhangra dance party. But why stop there when you can experience South Asian culture year-round?
EAT LIKE AN INDIAN
If you’re craving a taste of Delhi street food, chow down with the cabbies at the Punjabi Food Junction (301 Tenth Ave between 27th and 28th Sts, 212-564-0745), a late-night hole-in-the-wall that dishes up authentic North Indian fare. Go with the staples: saag paneer, a tangy mix of spinach and curds of soft cheese, and bharta, a fusion of smoky eggplant and onions.
Saravanaas (81 Lexington Ave at 26th St, 212-679-0204), a favorite of WNYC reporter Arun Venugopal, offers colorful thalis and myriad dosas, crispy crpes layered with spicy potatoes, onions and fresh mint chutney. Says Venugopal, who arrived in New York via Bangalore and Texas: “They serve that good, clean South Indian vegetarian food I was always complaining about as a kid.”
“We have more than 90 desserts, 16 entres and 20 appetizers,” says Nirav Shah, owner and manager of the Queens cafeteria Rajbhog (72-27 37th Ave at 72nd St, Jackson Heights; 718-458-8512). If you’re overwhelmed by all the choices, stick with bhel, a delectable mix of crunchy vermicelli-like noodles, onions, potatoes and tamarind chutney. Finish up with a cup of syrupy “desi” chai—tea infused with cardamom and ginger—and watch the busy sidewalks outside the window.
DANCE LIKE AN INDIAN
On the first Thursday of each month, you can learn how to “change a lightbulb” and other bhangra moves at S.O.B.’s (204 Varick St at Houston St, 212-243-4940), where DJ Rekha mixes up Bollywood tunes with dancehall, hip-hop and even reggae. Traditionally danced to celebrate the arrival of spring in the northern state of Punjab, bhangra requires tons of energy, a whiskey on the rocks and occasional hollering in Punjabi. Free dance lessons start at 9pm.
Desilicious is a monthly queer party with a Bollywood aesthetic. The next shindig will be on August 28 at the Highline Ballroom (431 W 16th St between Ninth and Tenth Aves, 212-414-5994), where desi drag divas, Bollywood-style glamour girls and their admirers gyrate to a “BollyHouse Mix” by Ashu Rai and DJ Bobby.
SEE INDIAN CINEMA
There are two great places to watch Bollywood films in the city: ImaginAsian (239 E 59th St between Second and Third Aves, 212-371-6682) and the overlooked Eagle Theatre (73-07 37th Rd between 73rd and 74 Sts, Jackson Heights, Queens; 718-565-8783). At the former, you can catch Kaminey (opens Friday 14), in which heartthrob Shahid Kapoor stars in a double role as twins struggling for success in modern India. Corrupt policemen, a former Miss Universe and plenty of songs are thrown in for good measure.
SHOP LIKE AN INDIAN
No Indian shopping experience is complete without a trip to Jackson Heights, where stores sell a mind-blowing range of products: saris, spices, jewelry, Indian DVDs and more. Start at Butala Emporium (37-46 74th St between Roosevelt and 37th Aves, 718-899-5590). Check out its impressive stock of Indian musical instruments—harmoniums and dholaks start at $89.99—as well as magazines and newspapers in more than 11 different languages. Don’t leave without a copper kadai, an Indian-style wok (starting at $9.99) designed to enhance flavors.
qIf you want to stock up on Indian groceries, look no further than Kalustyan’s (123 Lexington Ave between 28th and 29th Sts, 212-685-3451). This two-floor Aladdin’s cave is filled with everything you need to cook curries and hearty North Indian dishes. Spices such as asafetida, garam masala and jaggery are all found in abundance, as is ghee, essential to many dishes. Also notable is the selection of lentils, and an array of breads, like nan and missi roti (flatbread made from gram flour—four pieces for $6.99).
PLUCK YOUR EYEBROWS LIKE AN INDIAN
Threading is the new waxing, and no one shapes an unruly brow ($5) like the expert women at Gulzar Beauty Salon (70-01B Roosevelt Ave at Queens Blvd, Jackson Heights, Queens; 718-779-2800). Or just get one of the talented staffers to paint a pretty henna peacock ($20--$25) on your palm.