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Where to Explore South Asian Culture in NYC

New York City’s cultural landscape is enriched by its diverse population, and the South Asian community has made a particularly significant impact on various aspects of the city’s life. The city is home to the largest South Asian population in the United States, comprising individuals with roots in countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and others in the Indian subcontinent have made an outsize impact on the City’s food, art, music and fashion, and neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights in Queens, Kensington in Brooklyn and Tompkinsville in Staten Island are practically defined by their South Asian influence.

Visit the epicenter for local South Asian culture

No South Asian experience in New York City would be complete without a trip to Jackson Heights, home to one of the City’s oldest Little Indias as well as large communities from Bangladesh, Nepal and Tibet. It’s been the go-to for clothing, jewelry and food from South Asia for decades. In its anchor, Diversity Plaza, you’ll find Kabab King (Pakistani), Ittadi (Bangladeshi), Nepali Bhanchha Ghar (Nepalese) and Delhi Heights (Indian and Indo-Chinese). India Sari Palace is also in the neighborhood and has served New Yorkers’ fabric needs for decades.

Have a dosa at Flushing’s Ganesh Temple Canteen

The mile-plus stretch of Brooklyn’s Coney Island Avenue between Church Avenue and Avenue H is home to many Pakistani immigrants, who have arrived in waves since the 1990s. Stop by Lahori Chilli for Pakistani and Indian staples like tandoori chicken and kebabs, but make sure to try the beef nihari, an almost birria-like stew, with hunks of beef in a rich gravy thickened by whole-wheat flour. Walk over to Gourmet Sweets and Restaurant, which claims to be an outlet of Lahore’s famous Gourmet Resturant; whether or not that’s the case, it’s a fine place for tandoori, biryani and fresh sweets.

Learn Indian percussion at Art of Tabla

Brooklyn’s Art of Tabla is a music school dedicated to teaching and performing tabla (hand drums) and karnal (a long, straight trumpet). Hosted by Surya Sound Temple, a meditation center in Bushwick, the school features classes, events, workshops and performances. The organization draws inspiration from Shabd and Naga yoga. Founder Siddhartha Mehta says, “The yogic part of it has to do with learning and understanding how to sit down or stand up while playing and understanding the body mechanics.”

Try elevated South Indian food in the Village

While many are familiar with Indian food, most curry shops reflect North Indian tastes. Outside of dosas, not many South Indian specialties have found a big audience in the US. That changed to a degree with Seema, which was recently awarded a Michelin star for highlighting regional fare.True to its restaurant group’s name (Unapologetic Foods), Semma does not cater to American palettes, instead putting out dishes the way chef Vijay Kumar experienced them back in Tamil Nadu. Try the Goanese oxtail seasoned with cardamom, cumin, cilantro and cinnamon, or, more daring, Kudal Varuval, aka goat intestines spiced with garam masala. For something more traditional, opt for the gunpowder dosa or an uttapam (pancake made from rice and lentils) with fresh vegetables.

Check out an East Village institution for cab drivers (and everyone else)

Kulwinder Singh founded Punjabi Grocery & Deli in 1993 as a place for overworked cab drivers to feed their chai habit, get sustenance on long nights, chat with each other and be able to use a restroom in a city with few public ones easily available. Thirty years later it remains a neighborhood institution.After a late-night show across the street at Mercury Lounge, nothing hits like the affordable food here. Favorites include channa masala, chickpeas with onions covered with tamarind chutney and yogurt, served over a piping-hot samosa. Singh’s son, Jashon, and other young South Asian Americans successfully petitioned the City for a cab stand to maintain his father’s legacy of providing a welcoming place for taxi drivers.

Taste a fusion of Indian curries and Mexican tacos

Taco Mahal takes classic Indian dishes, like chicken tikka masala, and turns them into tacos, putting the fillings in tortilla-like naan or roti. A family affair, Danikkah Josan’s Indian taqueria occupies the West Village newsstand space her father worked out of for 30 years. Thanks to her Indian father and Puerto Rican mom, Josan grew up around Indian and Latin spices. The years she studied in Texas getting by on tacos inspired her to start Taco Mahal. Like the food fusion, the decor features Indian and Latin American influences.

Enjoy a luxury fashion experience in the West Village

Though not a household name in the States, Sabyasachi represents the pinnacle of Indian luxury fashion. Sure, there are the goods—handbags, jewelry, caftans, saris, evening gowns, gender-fluid coats—but the setting is equally worthy: high ceilings, complex woodwork, intricate wallpaper, chandeliers said to have cost almost a million dollars. Housed in the Archive Building on Christopher Street, the store elegantly fuses East and West.

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