New York is a city well-known for its glamour, grandiose streets, and rapid pace of life. However, once one gets past the constant bustle of the city, you start to notice other things that make New York unique. Outside of its attractions and endless events, one can find some of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods that are compiled of the various diaspora that make up the City. It is said that in some form, there are over 800 languages spoken in New York City, and many of these cultures are readily represented throughout the city in their own ways or in different neighborhoods. One of my favorite neighborhoods in New York City is the one I call Little India New York, which is located in Jackson Heights (Queens).
As you walk out of the subway and step into the streets of Jackson Heights, your senses are immediately stimulated by the plethora of smells and sights that come with the neighborhood’s diversity. The gentle smell of fresh curry over basmati rice; the allure of mystic incense at the front of shops, spice and goods stores; and even the many colors of clothing coming from the traditional wardrobes of the countries that make up the Indian subcontinent. I cannot say that there is one thing that I like in particular about the neighborhood. Mostly, I just enjoy the vibrant energy of it. If I were asked to tell people what I liked most about the neighborhood, then I’d probably say that it is the most condensed cultural neighborhood that I’ve been to in New York City. There are many different neighborhoods that are known for having a specific group of people, but few are near the concentration level that Jackson Heights is. Most of the other neighborhoods are more spread out and integrated into the City.
Little India New York might not seem like much at first glance, but upon further inspection it is a diverse and culturally rice enclave found in an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood. I, and some others, often refer to this area as ‘Little India’, but in truth, people from the country of India only make up a portion of the people in this neighborhood. I would venture to say that the main three having shops within this area are Indian, Bengali, and Pakistani. Although they could be classified as part both India and Pakistan, there are a lot of Punjabi people as well. There are other less represented groups that have a presence also such as Nepali, Tibetan, Afghani, and Burmese. Walking a few streets outside of this area, you will notice some Koreans to the West and a large Latino population living further up Roosevelt Avenue. From what I have seen, the Latino population primarily consists of Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Colombians, and Venezuelans. However, I’d have little doubt that more countries would be represented if polled. Needless to say, there are a lot of cultural differences in the area and as you might imagine, it is difficult to go wrong with respect to food in the neighborhood.
Most of these groups have established restaurants in the area so most visitors to the neighborhood will have no trouble finding something that suits their palate. I don’t get to visit too often, but I do occasionally make a trip when I am craving a good curry or that semi-travel feeling of traveling while at home. There are other places in New York City that have small concentrations of Desi people, but this is my favorite. Jackson Heights is a great place to get some exposure to the different cultures located within it.
The food is diverse. Whether you are just looking to have tea time, or looking for a more complex meal, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. There are delicious sweets, spicy options, and refreshing teas. You can have a hearty meal, taste various sweets, then finish it all off with a delicious tea at one of the many food places in the neighborhood. You can definitely have a ‘taste of India‘.
Walking through the neighborhood you will see written and hear multiple languages spoken. Besides language, food just might be the largest representation of culture out there. In addition to food and language comes dress, music, and religion. All of these other aspects may be found in the neighborhood. You can see traces of the Hindu, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Christianity all within a relatively small area. You’ll hear Buddhist rhythms to Bhangra beats.When I went a few months ago, there was actually a celebration for the festival of lights called Diwali.
Best Restaurants in Jackson Heights?
I’ve been to a few of the different restaurants in Little India, and out of those most are on par with one another. My recommendation is to go to the places that you see a lot of Desi people eating. If you are the foreigner or outsider in the restaurant, then there is a good chance that the food will be good. I’ve followed that method before and it hasn’t misled me.
How to get there?
Fortunately, there are multiple means of public transportation that will bring you to Jackson Heights. The main three subway lines are the 7, E, and F lines. All three of those lines come from Manhattan and go deeper into Queens from Jackson Heights. The stop is called Roosevelt Avenue & Jackson Heights. The express service lines will get you there the fastest. Only the 7 and E typically offer express services. Due to construction, the 7 has been in and out of service on the weekends, which doesn’t make a big difference. Although the 7 offers nice views of the City, the E is actually faster to get there because it only stops once between Court Square and Jackson Heights at Queensboro Plaza when coming from Manhattan. There are also two bus lines, the Q 70 and Q 47 that stop in Jackson Heights.
It is important to note that Jackson Heights is a larger neighborhood, then just the area where Little India is located. If you want to find Little India New York then I suggest going to the corner of 74th Street and 37th Road (Not to be confused with 37th Avenue, but in actuality they will both work). Little India can loosely be boxed in by 72nd Street, 37th Avenue, Broadway/Roosevelt Avenues and 75th street. All of the main shops, restaurants, and specialty stores are located on 73rd and 74th Streets. 73rd is known for being more Bengali while 74th is more Indian. There are some other businesses located outside of this main area, but the majority are within it. It isn’t a big area, but there is a lot going on.
Other ‘Little Indias in New York City’
As I mentioned earlier in the article, there are other ‘Little India’ areas found in New York City that are worth mentioning. Primarily two that come to mind. Although, one of the two that I am thinking of is strictly Bengali and Pakistani, typically referred to as Little Bangladesh or Little Pakistan. Both are together and located in lower Brooklyn on Coney Island Avenue. There is another semi-concentrated area of Desi restaurants at 27th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. However, neither of these compare much to Jackson Heights.
Kalpana Chawla Way New York
When visiting Little India New York you may notice that under the name 74 St is written the name Kalpana Chawla Way. For the first few times visiting, I assumed that it was something significant to the Indian people, but never took the time to research it. After doing a small web search, I found out that Kalpana Chawla was quite a heroic figure and role model for Indian Women world-wide. She was the first Indian woman in space, and additionally the first woman astronaut of Indian heritage. She was a brave woman who accomplished many great feats in her life, but unfortunately died before her time in an accident when the Space Shuttle Columbia crashed into Earth’s atmosphere. She was certainly a person who set her sights on the stars, both literally and figuratively, and was the source of inspiration for many. Well-worthy of having a street named in her honor.
Have you been to Little India? If you haven’t then when will you go?
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