On the corner of Broome and Crosby in SoHo, a quiet sanctuary celebrates one of India’s spiritual traditions: the Broome Street Hindu Temple. Inside, the community recites the Bhagavad Gita, practices pujas, meditates, connects with the divine. Days after September 11, Eddie Stern opened the temple, which began as a yoga studio the year before. When the Twin Towers fell, it became a refuge to pray for hope amidst the ash-covered streets of lower Manhattan, and it has certainly been a place of transformation for Stern himself.
As a former punk rocker, Stern used to play guitar in three bands, one of them called Losers of a Dying World. Once he began exploring Indian culture, he said his life took a dramatic turn.
“Within a few months of learning about a vegetarian diet, starting to do a little bit of meditation and a little bit of chanting … everything began to change for me,” Stern said. “I felt like I was alive. I could explore and get to know myself in a new way because before I was covering it up.”
Stern has traveled to India around 25 times in his lifetime. He began teaching yoga in 1989. “I didn’t know anything about India at all, but I went and I loved it and I didn’t stop going back,” he said.
And it’s people like Stern who bring elements of India’s culture, history and traditions to the U.S. for others to learn about and enjoy. Here are five ways to experience India in New York City:
- The Dazzling Dosa: It’s the eye-catching spectacle during a southern Indian meal — the dosa. Crispy, spicy and delicious, this crepe-like staple made of fermented rice or lentil batter will take up nearly half the table. For a classic masala dosa, try the Dosa Hutt in Flushing, Queens or the Jackson Diner in Jackson Heights where a dosa is included in the $12 lunch buffet. For fusion fare, swing by the Hampton Chutney Company in SoHo; their melding of southern Indian and Western flavors really spices things up. The curry chutney chicken, spinach and balsamic-roasted onion dosa is a popular favorite, as is their chai tea.
- A Little India in Queens: Off the seven train, an eclectic mix of South East Asian culture awaits on 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. Primarily dominated by elements of Indian culture, Jackson Heights is also punctuated by communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bollywood music blares, brilliant red and orange saris glimmer in window displays and turban-wearing Sikh men chat in the streets in Punjabi. Stop by the Indian grocery stores Subzi Mandi or Patel Brothers to pick up sugared fennel seeds, fresh naan bread or a chilled mango lassi (the classic Indian drink made of yogurt and tangy mango puree).
- India’s Hollywood: A fast-action melodrama that dazzles audiences with color and catchy music, Bollywood dancing steals the stage. In Bangalore’s Hollywood, this dance style, usually performed during musical breaks in Bollywood musicals and movies, combines modern techniques with classical Indian dance. Instructor Pooja Narang at Bollywood Axion in Midtown opened one of the first Bollywood dance studios on the East Coast in 2003. Get coached in high-cardio dance moves that will get your heart pumping or try Punjabi-style Bhangra. Other popular studios include Dhoonya Dance and Bollywood Funk NYC Dance School.
- City in a Curry: If you’re seeking the flavors of India, stroll around Curry Hill in Murray Hill or Curry Row in the East Village where door to door the scent of cumin and coriander teases the nose. The blinking rainbow lights at Panna II Garden on First Avenue beam through the window like the Aurora Borealis. Inside, a chaotic cluster of Christmas lights hangs so low, patrons have to duck their heads to squeeze through the narrow passageway. The experience, prices and food here, however, are a thrill. In Curry Hill, there’s the more modern and spacious Dhaba on Lexington or Chennai Garden on 27th Street with its cone-shaped dosas and Gujarati curries.
- A Tour of Temples: At most Hindu temples in New York City right now, the sound of saws and chisels as renovations are underway. A new exterior edifice is being carved by hand for the Ganesh Temple in Flushing; the Broome Street Temple is retrofitting its second floor temple to make it more green; and The Radhe-Shyam Temple in the East Village closed and reopened as the Ramakrishnananda Yoga Vedanta Center in Astoria, Queens on 38th Street. During construction, however, services continue. Find your way there to chant, meditate, practice yoga or learn more about Hinduism, the majority religion in India.