The closest thing to a real Indian cuisine is apparently in New Jersey. It comes as no surprise since Asian-Indians account for more than 11% of the local population. Yet, most people who visit this part of the States have only one wish - to explore Manhattan.
New Jersey - living in the shadow of New York City
Though the two cities are only 70 miles apart, the vast majority of tourists are stuck on the idea of New York. Many don't know much more than New York on the East and L.A. on the west coast.
But, it's not like New Jersey residents complain. They enjoy their laid back approach to life, something that Big Apple cannot afford to its residents.
When it comes to the international kitchen, many assume that NYC has it all. But, it appears that's far from the truth. If you enjoy Indian food, yet you're on the East Coast of the States. The best thing to do is to visit New Jersey.
India Square is the spot for everything authentic, from the music to souvenirs, especially food.
Brad Japhe, food and travel journalist for CNN, named Jersey City as the go-to spot for Indian food in the U.S., and locals in the Newark Avenue community agreed.
This spot, which takes two blocks, is home to the country's largest Holi festivals every spring, dating back to 1992.
Newark Avenue, where India Square lies, is one of the fastest-growing ethnic enclaves in the United States. One of the first restaurants in this area is Rasoi, which specialized in Punjabi fare. The owner, Satinder Saggar, said to CNN:
"When I opened, I was the second one here. Now there are more than 20 Indian restaurants on either side. And over the last ten years, it is getting increasingly popular."
His main dishes are focused on northwestern India cousins, while Raaz offers Indo-Persian flavors. At Curry On, you can get a taste of Hyderabadi - the rice dish built around chicken, roasted on the bone.
If you want flatbread, go to Paratha Junction. Another newer restaurant is Korai Kitchen with a full Bengali menu. At Sri Ganesh's Dosa House, you can select from vegetarian renderings of the southern Indian snacks.
The newer places are more upscale
Most restaurants give off that home-cooked vibe. But, if you need something a bit more dazzling, there are many places worth visiting.
As s Suvir Bhalla, a first-generation immigrant who has lived in Jersey City for eight years, explained:
"Raaz and Vaibhav have more of a modern vibe. And at Mantra, they're mixing in some Manchurian flavors. That's a big thing these days — Asian fusion."
Bhalla still mostly enjoys the dishes that connect him to his youth. As he further told CNN:
"If I'm not eating my mom's cooking, I'll eat at Rasoi."
The best recommendations always come from locals, and Bhalla is both an Indian and American, so his praise means only one thing - Rasoi is a place you can't afford to miss on your next journey.
Many Indian immigrants throughout the Tri-State area see New Jersey as their second home or their new start. Bhalla added something true to many Asian-Indians:
"Long before I moved, my parents would always go food shopping in Jersey City. It's the hub for my people."
Jersey City is like India away from India
Vikas Khanna, a Michelin-starred chef also praised New Jersey's restaurants, stating:
"The aromas, cuisine, and traditions are very intact here with the community. I travel here [from New York City] for inspiration. I'm proud to see the growth of heritage and acceptance of India here. It is now the more expanded version of a Jackson Heights."
Saggar also expressed that the government's always been supportive, which additionally helps the rise of the popularity of Indian restaurants in Jersey. He added that this is the only city in the US that has four Indian festivals each year.
Mayor Fulop is proud of well-liked due to his commitment to keeping the restaurants working, even at the minimum capacities, during the pandemic. The Mayor is proud of his city, and all of its residents:
He told CNN:
"The reality is that this community deserves the credit for organically changing an area of the city that was in need."
It's more than just food. It's about getting the taste of another culture, and New Jersey is open to visitors who want to experience something new, less flashy than Manhattan light, and well beyond anything you can buy. Soaking in culture and exploring is in our nature, and creating memories is priceless.