From Lagos to Singapore, six restaurateurs introduce the Little Indias in their hometowns.
If you’re a globe-trotting Indian who stays out of the country for months on end, what better place to get a taste of home than in an Indian enclave overseas? Just as there’s a Chinatown in capital cities around the globe, you’ll find most also have their own Little Indias—complete with temples and gurdwaras, boutiques selling saris, and restaurants offering everything from Bombay chaat to sticky Indian sweets. Here, we profile six restaurants where you’ll find a feel of home, no matter which part of the world you’re in.
NEW JERSEY: Dimple’s Bombay Talk Tucked away on an unassuming street in Woodbridge Township’s Iselin, is Dimple’s Bombay Talk: a hit restaurant serving Bombay-style sandwiches and chaat to a crowd of NRIs, locals and students from nearby Rutgers and Montclair State universities. Now a New Jersey institution, Dimple’s Bombay Talk was started by 68-year-old Dilip Mehta in 1989, having moved to the US from Mumbai the previous year. Mehta now runs Dimple’s with his daughter-in-law, Jahnavi, and guarantees the food he serves won’t taste any different from the real deal back in Mumbai. It seems others are just as enthusiastic: Dimple’s Junglee Jumbo sandwich was voted ‘Best vegetarian He-Man sandwich in all of USA’ by the New York Times. “Oak Tree Road is dominated by Indian stores and restaurants,” says Mehta, adding that the area’s mix of Gujaratis, Punjabis and Muslims has ensured he doesn’t miss home. Dimple’s Bombay Talk, Oak Tree Road, Iselin, New Jersey (+1 732 283 0066; www.bombaytalkusa.com)
SINGAPORE: Ananda Bhavan: Little India, Singapore The oldest Indian vegetarian restaurant in Singapore, Ananda Bhavan on Little India’s Selegie Road was established back in 1924. Viren Ettikan, CEO of the Ananda Bhavan chain, describes it as a piece of history in Singapore’s lively Little India district. Selegie Road is just off Little India’s main Serangoon Road, where the bylanes are full of stalls selling everything from spices and garlands to ayurvedic massage oils. The many tourists that flock to the area have only helped Ananda Bhavan’s business. In fact, to cater to the restaurant’s growing customer base, a new outpost was opened in Terminal 2 of Changi Airport in 2009. Ettikan says, “Air India always directs its passengers to us when they have long stopovers.” Ettikan belongs to Singapore’s 25 lakh Tamil community (Tamil is one of the city-state’s four national languages). With so many South Indian restaurants in Singapore, what makes this one stand out? “Our variety of foods like puttu and appam are difficult to get elsewhere,” he says. Ananda Bhavan, Little India, Singapore (+65 6297 9522; www.anandabhavan.com)
SYDNEY: Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant On Harris Park, there are Indian sweets everywhere you look. Gulab jamuns and kaju katlis line the shelves of shops the length and breadth of the street. Harris Park is the city’s answer to Chandni Chowk, so it’s hard to believe that when Taj Sweets opened in 2003, it was the area’s first mithai shop. “Local people call Taj Sweets the founder of Little India,” says 44-year-old Ramesh Sharma, the store’s irascible owner. “We brought life to this suburb and attracted Indian people from all over New South Wales.” Australia’s Indian population is expanding rapidly—in 2011-12, India was its largest source of permanent migration, forming 15.7 percent of the total migration programme. Harris Park has grown to reflect this, and now has 15 Indian restaurants, seven stores and many boutiques. Delhi-native Sharma is bullish about the store’s success, saying: “We supply sweets to Indian weddings across the country and during festivals, people queue up outside our shop, just as they do in iconic mithai shops in India.” Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant, Harris Park, Sydney (www.tajindianrestaurant.com.au)
LONDON: Shayona Post-Independence, London’s Wembley and nearby Neasden became home to a large population of Indian settlers—predominantly Gujaratis. Over the years, this population has continued to grow, with Hindus now making up 29 percent of Wembley’s population, according to a 2012 Brent Council report. To cater for this community, Neasden’s white marble BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir was built in 1995; now the temple complex houses a school, a grocery store and a popular restaurant called Shayona, where profits are used to support charities as well as the temple’s own charitable activities. Says Shayona’s director, 64-year-old Dinesh C Patel, “Shayona is unique in the city in that it only serves sattvic food without any onion or garlic, and there is no alcohol served here either.” In spite of this, Shayona’s ‘pure’ food is beloved by homesick Indians who visit BAPS Mandir, as well as adventurous diners from elsewhere in the city. Patel recommends Shayona’s Gujarati thali as the perfect introduction to sattvic cuisine. Shayona, 54 - 62 Meadow Garth, Neasden, London NW10 8HD (+44 20 8965 3365; www.shayonarestaurants.com)
LAGOS: Indigo While Nigeria may seem like an unlikely destination for Indian expats, the High Commission of India in Nigeria estimates around 35,000 Indians live in the country—the majority in and around Lagos. The city’s Indian community is a prosperous one, with many expats based in the upmarket area of Victoria Island, where there are numerous Indian restaurants and grocery stores as well as the offices of the Indian High Commission. One of Victoria Island’s most popular Indian restaurants is Indigo, owned by businessman and former Mumbai resident Manoj Jagtiani. Jagtiani opened Indigo six years ago, hoping to appeal to both locals and expats. He said, “We try to maintain the natural flavour of the food without excessive oil and spices, so that it can be enjoyed by people with all kinds of palates.” Indigo serves both North and South Indian cuisines with a special emphasis on grilled items like king prawn tikka masala and paneer seekh kebab. They’re particularly popular among visiting Indians from companies such as ONGC, Tata Automobiles, VFS visa services and Zamil Steel, many of whom stay at Indigo’s small hotel, or at Jagtiani’s nearby rental apartments. Indigo, 242B Muri Okunola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria (+234 1270 1880)
DUBAI: Eric’s Restaurant With a whopping 30 percent of the population of Indian origin, Indians are easily the largest expatriate community in the UAE. It’s little surprise, then, that business is booming at the numerous restaurants and grocery stores in Al Karama, Dubai’s Little India. Former Goa resident Eric Lewis, 50, runs Eric’s Restaurant, one of the area’s most popular Indian restaurants. “Dubai is known as the Land of Opportunities—I initially came here from Bengaluru for five years, but liked it so much that I decided to stay on,” he says. He started Eric’s in 2006 with a seating capacity of just 20; today, the restaurant accommodates 52. Eric’s started out serving Goan food, but broadened its repertoire to Mughlai and Oriental food to match the demands of Dubai’s multicultural society. In order to keep his Goan dishes authentic, Lewis imports special ingredients from the coastal state on his regular visits home. “Things like Goan vinegar, kokum, and certain powdered spices are not available here, so I bring them back with me,” says Lewis. They must be what make dishes like his fresh raw-fried bombil (Bombay duck), grilled prawns and potato chops the sell-out items on his menu. Eric’s Restaurant, Ground Level, Block B2, Street 10B, Sheikh Hamdan Colony, Al Karama, Dubai (+971 4396 5080)
LITTLE-KNOWN LITTLE INDIAS AROUND THE WORLD: Paramaribo, Suriname The capital of this former Dutch colony has a significant number of Indian-origin citizens, with Hindus making up 27 percent of the Surinamese population. Indian stores and curry shops are found in the area southeast of Central Market.
Maputo, Mozambique There are approximately 20,000 people of Indian origin living in Mozambique. Maputo’s Coop area is where the community is concentrated, with Gujaratis making up the majority. There is also a Shiva and a Radha Krishna temple in the capital.
Durban, South Africa The Chatsworth township in Durban has a five lakh strong community of Indians, with Tamils and Gujaratis making up the majority. Chatsworth is also home to the Temple of Understanding—a Hare Krishna temple that is one of Durban’s most visited attractions.
Tokyo, Japan East Tokyo’s Nishikasai area has recently become a centre for the Indian community, and is home to Japan’s largest Indian population. From Kolkata sweet shops and North Indian restaurants to grocery stores selling basmati rice and lentils, you’ll find it all in Nishikasai.
Reunion Island Once completely uninhabited, now over 25 percent of this Indian Ocean island’s population is Indian or of Indian origin. Plenty of temples and mosques have been built in recent years to accommodate their needs and restaurants, dance academies and art centres all promote Indian culture.
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