Photo Essay: A Tour of Jersey City’s Little India

Robert Sietsema shows us the best places to eat dosa, thali, and more in this vibrant Indian enclave, less than 30 minutes from Manhattan.

  • Newark Avenue, where a tour of Little Indian begins.
  • One of many storefront Hindu temples. The thing that looks like a swastika (upper left-hand corner) is an ancient Indian symbol that has nothing to do with Nazism.
  • Sri Ganesha’s Dosa House (809 Newark Avenue, 201-222-3883) is one of several places selling dosas, utthapam (flat, pizza-like pancakes), iddly (spongy rice dumplings), and uppma (a spice-studded cream of wheat). This is one of the New York area’s best brunch spots.
  • At the Dosa House, you can get a vegetarian set meal, called a thali, that features flatbreads, curries, fritters, chutneys and pickles, fluffy rice, cooling yogurt raita, and a soup called sambar that is much hotter than it looks.
  • A shrine to the elephant-headed god Ganesha fills one corner of his namesake Dosa House.
  • Sri Ganesha’s Dosa House gets very busy on weekend afternoons.
  • The butter masala dosa at Dosa House is served with homemade coconut and peanut chutneys. Eat it with your fingers by tearing off little pieces and dipping.
  • At Little India grocery stores, you can get gawar beans, which can be boiled or stir-fried like green beans, but require more cooking time.
  • Also available are tinda, a squash no bigger than your pinky.
  • Chennai Flavors (827 Newark Avenue, 201-222-7735) specializes in the cooking of the southern city of Chennai, formerly Madras, and eggs are a surprising specialty, as the logo suggests.
  • Mutton kozhambu at Chennai Flavors is a rich, dark curry featuring toasted spices.
  • Spiced scrambled eggs called podimas at Chennai Flavors—you may start doing this at home.
  • You can buy a handmade straw broom in Jersey City’s Little India. If you happen to be a witch, get on it and ride.
  • The pan seller wraps spices and folk medicines up in leaves, which are then sucked on and chewed.
  • Translated as “Seven Hills,” Sapthagiri (804 Newark Avenue, 201-533-8400) is the best vegetarian restaurant on the block, and nearly all of the food is also vegan.
  • Kanchipuram iddly, dumplings served with yogurt and sambar, are only available on weekends at Sapathagiri.
  • An utthapam studded with fresh coconut at Sapthagiri is served on a banana leaf.
  • Sapthagiri’s splendid okra curry is moist and spicy.
  • Singh’s Department Store, an ancient variety store that sold, among other things, Garbage Pail Kids cards, was probably the first Indian business on the block. Now it looks permanently closed.
  • Taj Diamond sells jewelry, much of it gold, which goes into a bride’s dowry.
  • Deccan Spice (771 Newark Ave, 201-604-1772) specializes in the oft-meaty food of the southern city of Hyderabad.
  • Chicken biryani at Deccan Spice contains a boiled egg that has been deep fried. Where have you seen that before?
  • Radish-stuffed paratha at Deccan Spice is a breath of spring.
  • Finish up with some sweets like barfi and halwa from Bengali Sweet House (836 Newark Avenue, 201-798-9240).

For 20 years, Jersey City’s Newark Avenue just north of Journal Square has been known as Little India. Dozens of businesses cater to the culinary and cultural needs of South Asians, and the street includes groceries selling spices, dry goods, and vegetables (many unfamiliar to Westerners); stores flogging the gold jewelry that makes up the dowries of Indian brides; sari shops; pan sellers (who wrap mixtures of spices and unguents in beadle leaves, which are then chewed); and some really kick-ass restaurants.

Originally, the stores catered to Gujaratis, who came from India’s westernmost state, but now South Indians from states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala have filtered in. Like the Gujaratis, many prefer eating vegetarian, though there are also many meat eaters among them.

Several restaurants specialize in dosas, the fermented rice-and-lentil pancakes―often stuffed with curried vegetables―that form the heart of South India meatless cooking. Plenty of places also flaunt the currently faddish Indo-Chinese menu, a cuisine that represents a popular adaptation of Chinese cooking for Indian tastes. Take some time to cruise the two dozen restaurants along the two long blocks of Little India, as well as those spilling onto the side streets, before deciding where to eat.

Getting there: Take the PATH train from Manhattan to Journal Square, then walk north along John F. Kennedy Boulevard until you hit Newark Avenue.

Click through the gallery above to see scenes from Jersey City’s Little India, as well as the best places to eat when you visit.

Written by Robert Sietsema (@robertsietsema)

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