Little India: So Near, Yet So Far Away

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I’ve shared many of my “loves” on this blog (art supplies, baking, books, movies, etc.), so I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you how much I love to travel. Whether it’s to another state, or another country, I am crazy about travel.  A business trip to Minnesota?  Yes!  A half marathon in New Orleans?  Woo hoo!  A guided tour in Peru?  Heavenly!  So it may surprise you when I say that a trip to an international district within a hundred miles is thrilling to me, too.

I live in Southern California and I’m so thankful that this area is such a melting pot.  And though different ethnicities are spread throughout, there are often pockets of particular ethnicities in certain areas.  For example Chinatown, near downtown L.A. I love driving up, having a dim sum lunch, and wandering through the stores and markets.  So much of the atmosphere and product is different than what I’d find in my neighborhood stores, and I eat it up.  It’s like I’ve traveled far away, though I’m not far from home at all.

I think of this kind of trip as a poor woman’s tourism, and am thankful I can slake my thirst for different experiences and cultures in these international districts in between my trips abroad.  It’s unlikely that I’ll ever have enough money or vacation time to satisfy my travel lust, so I have to be resourceful.

No Passport Required

My dear husband and I recently took an afternoon and went to the far-off land of Little India.  I’ve wanted to visit India (the country) for years, but haven’t managed a trip there yet, so this was a do-able compromise.  And though it was a unique and wonderful experience, it only took us about 30 minutes to drive to Artesia.  No packing required, and no jet lag!  José and I only spent about three hours in Little India, so I’ll definitely need to go back when I have more time.  I’d like to peruse the shops and markets more slowly, but I saw enough on this trip to know that I want to go back for more!

Culinary Delights

We started our adventure with a visit to a restaurant called Ambala Dhaba.  We shared the following:

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Samosa keema (the two pieces served as a tasty appetizer)

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Channa masala (a vegetarian side dish featuring chickpeas – we loved it!)

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Ambala chicken (our main dish, which came out sizzling on a skillet)

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Garlic Naan (delicious bread)

We also had:
A mango shake (José)
Shikanjvi (limeade – me)

The entire meal was delicious, but the channa masala, naan, and mango shake stole the show.  I would drive to Little India just for that shake – yum!  José was nice enough to share with me.

Vibrant Views

After lunch it was time for a little shopping.  As a visual artist, I was thrilled with the colors, textures and fabrics. Indian apparel is often bold and bright, and I love it.  The colors and fabrics were nearly irresistible, and my purchase desires definitely outstripped anything my wallet and finances could ever support!  I restricted myself to one tunic-style garment and some inexpensive bracelets, but drank in the textiles everywhere we went.  Delicious!  And that doesn’t even include the jewelry.

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My God, the jewelry!  The window displays turned me into a slack-jawed tourist, and I numbly stood there gaping and wiping saliva from my chin.  I couldn’t bring myself to enter a single jewelry store – for a few reasons.  One, I know the 24-karat gold jewelry they sell is way out of my price range.  Two, I have nowhere to wear such incredibly gorgeous and ornate creations.  Three, reasons one and two wouldn’t keep me from wanting these pricey and impractical ornaments and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the proprietors by whimpering and whining when I’d eventually be forced to leave the store empty-handed.

Groceries Galore

The grocery store we visited (Pioneer Grocery) was a treasure trove – full of products and packaging that were new and exciting to me.  Spices galore (including a huge bag of turmeric for less than $14), orange lentils that tickled my retinas, several kinds of rice in huge bags, and gorgeous purple and deep pink potatoes – all were there for me to enjoy free of charge.  Next time I visit I’ll grab a cart and shop!

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Dessert?  Certainly!

Culinary enthusiasts that we are, we felt compelled to sample Indian ice cream at Saffron Spot.  They have many flavors that are unusual to the western palate, and though we tried the rose-flavored ice cream, we stuck with more typical flavors like coconut, vanilla, and butterscotch.  Armed with our shovel-shaped “spoons”, we sat on a bench in the shade and enjoyed the creamy goodness.

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Leaving No Stone Unturned

After visiting some more clothing stores and shops with assorted goods, it was almost time to call it a day.  Work loomed the next day, and, responsible citizens that we are, we had to head home.  We couldn’t leave without visiting one of the many sweet shops though. We didn’t want to shortchange you, dear readers.  (wink)  We ventured into Bombay Sweets & Snacks, and gathered an assortment of goodies to take home with us.

Papri gathia (a kind of chip made from chickpeas – they resemble Fritos!)
Hot mix (India’s version of spicy Chex Mix?)
Coconut, mango, and badam (almond) barfi (squares of confectionery goodness)
Badana (mysterious orange balls that won me over simply because of their color)
Amriti (mysterious orange pretzel-looking things that also wooed me with their color)

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Back home I sampled all these goodies.  My favorites are the hot mix on the savory side, and the mango and badam barfi (tastes better than it sounds), and badana on the sweet side.  The badana balls are incredibly sweet and delicious.  I think they’re basically fried and sugared bits of bliss – so it’s a good thing I don’t live down the street from Little India or the Bombay staff would be seeing a lot of me!

Venture Forth, Southern California Residents!

I really enjoyed this poor woman’s tour, and hope to return to Little India soon.  If you live in Southern California (or live in another metropolitan area with international districts), consider a trip to Little India.  The sights, smells and sounds will be a treat for your senses, and you’ll experience the joy of travel without all the hassle.  If you’ve read this far, thank you!  I’ll be posting write-ups on trips I’ve taken and on visits to international districts/ethnic markets in the coming months, so please stay tuned!

Warm regards,
Melody

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6 Comments

  1. Posted September 20, 2010 at 12:58 pm by Beth Nielsen | Permalink

    WOW; it sure seems like you covered it all. How exciting and the photos, as usual are beautiful and so is your descriptive writing!

  2. Posted September 20, 2010 at 2:21 pm by Melody | Permalink

    Thank you for your kind words, Beth. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Posted September 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm by Terry | Permalink

    Did you happen to make it to the shop called Cottage Art on Pioneer Blvd.? It’s a really cool store, lots of brightly colored, ornate stuff in there. I bought a super comfy floor cushion for my meditation space last spring, and the people who work there couldn’t be nicer. Now you’ve got me all craving some Indian food. Well done! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Posted September 20, 2010 at 7:08 pm by Melody | Permalink

    Hi Terry,
    I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and that my words and photos were able to get you hungry for Indian food! I didn’t make it to Cottage Art, but will be sure to stop by when I go back. It sounds wonderful!

  5. Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:14 am by Sherri | Permalink

    Oh thank you for sharing this! I live in southern AZ and I think this is a trip I could make–although I, also, want to go to the real India some day! I love the food, the textiles, the atmosphere. Thank you!

  6. Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:57 pm by Melody | Permalink

    Hi Sherri,
    You’re very welcome. A trip to Little India could easily be worked into a trip to Southern California – great idea! Thank you for stopping by – I hope to see you here again soon…
    Melody

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