The air is heady with the fragrance of cardamom, cumin, roses and incense. The markets are crowded with women clad in flowing saris and men wearing caftans and intricately-wound turbans. Shop windows display glittering gold jewelry, statues of Krishna and lacquered sitars. Sidewalk vendors proffer bunches of fresh herbs, sticky sweets and copies of the Koran.
This is Jackson Heights, also known as Little India. It has been said that this section of Queens is not really like Bombay (or even Mumbai) because there are no cows wandering the streets. But Little India certainly isn’t like anyplace else in the United States.
This is the place to go for books, newspapers, CDs and videos in Urdu, Hindi, Tamil and Gujarati. Catch the latest releases from Bollywood at the Eagle Cinema. Bang on a tabla, have a salwar kameez made to measure, fill your arms with colorful glass bangles, get a mehndi tattoo, drop a coin in a beggar’s cup, have your eyebrows threaded or your handlebar moustache groomed.
The grocery stores and pushcarts overflow with the spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Intrigued by curry leaves, purple yams and ridge gourds but unsure what to do with them? Just ask (you’ll be inundated with “secret” family recipes) or leave the food in the hands of the professionals and fill yourself — cheaply and deliciously — at the local sweets shops and restaurants.