Sunday, December 28, 2008

Little India

We decided to take a trip to Artesia, a little community in the south western part of Los Angeles County known as "Little India."

On an unassuming stretch of Pioneer Boulevard around 186th Street, Indian groceries, jewelers, music shops and sari shops are clustered, along with restaurants representing a variety of regional cuisine from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Today, a pleasant weekend afternoon, families were out shopping and treating themselves. Fathers and mothers pushed stroller, or held kids by the hand. Indian families seem to indulge and spoil their kids when they're very young - at the tables in the sweet shop or the ice cream parlor, imperious little toddlers squealed and shouted their demands, while parents plied them with treats and passersby looked on with amusement.

We stopped off at Surati Farsan Mart, a sweet and spices shop featuring food from the state of Gujarat, in northwestern India. It was a sleek and modern place, with shelves of pretty red boxes they use to pack mailorder items, and a curved glass case displaying an array of colored halwas, savory snacks, and barfi. My camera battery died before I could snap some pictures of the sweets, but go to the link and browse their photos - they are all very colorful and delicious looking.
One of the nice things about SFM, as it's called, is the menu explains what some of the dishes are. We ordered thali, a lunch combo, and 2 dosas. These rice-flour pancakes come with different stuffings and served with a spicy soup for dunking or spooning on top. A cool coconut herb chutney came on the side. The one above folded in wedges was filled with green chiles, herbs and garlic, while the rolled on was filled with spicy potatoes. The crust - particularly the rolled dosa - was delicate and crunchy, but softened under the soupy sauce.

After eating, we strolled down Pioneer Boulevard, looking at the shops. All the windows had discount and sales signs - whether this is connected to the faltering economy or just serious competition among businesses, it's hard to tell. In one shop, I found the most exquisite length of pink and blue silk for a sari, marked down 75% because it had been faded by the sun. For 6 yards of embroidered silk, they wanted $70.00. Not bad, huh? I held fast only because I knew I already have a closet full of gorgeous fabric I haven't used yet - but I hope Southern California crafters who are more productive than me take the hint and check it out.
My purchases were modest - I bought some bangles. These pretty metal bangles were a guilt-free splurge, at $8 for two dozen. At a little shop called the Bangle Bazaar you can buy twice as many glass bangles for the same price. There are dozens of them to search through under tables of Bollywood CDs in the shop. Make sure you know your size, though - glass bangles are often too small for hulky American hands like mine, and they are fragile. If you have slim hands or young daughters, they are a wonderful, elegant and CHEAP indulgence.

Across the street is a store called Cottage Arts, that sells home decor items like carved furniture, brass work, decorative items and fabrics. They have seat cushions and pillow covers, embroidered in gold and silver thread or studded with beads and sequins, in a rich array of jewel-like colors.
I love them, but for our living room couch, I got two pillow covers with a patchwork of raw silk and embroidery with little flat mirrored discs - less scratchy bling better suited to comfy lounging.
After walking off our lunch, we were ready for some sweets, so we visited The Saffron Spot, a sweets parlor specializing in ice cream.
The flavors are unusual, and include rose, saffron, pomegranate, mango, jackfruit, lychee, and coconut. [The Man I Love] chose one scoop of cashew/raisin, and one scoop of a flavor named Rajbhog, which combines saffron, pistachios, cashews, almonds and cardamom.

Our Son and I had something called Falooda - sweet milky beverages mixed with tender thin noodles and bits of crunchy things called takmaria, topped with a scoop of ice cream. Checking later, I found out that takmaria are basil seeds that are soaked overnight, so they swell and become gelatinous. They are considered to be helpful with digestion and keeping your system....moving along as it should.

I had a rose-flavored falooda. Here's what it looked like - the little bits are the takmaria. What it tasted like was amazing! Sweet and intense and the flavor of rosewater. Like another Asian drink, Boba, it was fun to suck the ingredients up through a straw, although the little noodles were sometimes disconcerting, dripping on my chin so I had to slurp them up like errant spaghetti.

There were other things I longed to check out. There were many beauty shops, where they use a twisted thread instead of wax or tweezers to shape your eyebrows - and I'm getting a little shaggy lately. I wanted to find some soft leather shoes, embroidered with beads and with pointy toes. I wished I had more time to paw through the discounted saris for yards of silk chiffon. And I could have spent hours at Cottage Arts, figuring out how to transform our bedroom into something like this magical boudoir.
But my guys don't have much tolerance for shopping. I could sense them chafing as I mulled over the dozens of stacks of bangles, sorted through the pillow covers, looked at the copper ware pans and knicknacks. It's a Girl Thing. I think I need to make plans to come again with some female friends. If you're in Southern California and feel like an adventure, give me a shout out.


cactus petunia said...

I have a niece in Southern India I haven't seen since she was 3 years old, and she has 5 children now...I doubt I'll ever be able to afford to go to India, but if I'm ever down there, I'll look you up and maybe we could shop! Thanks for the tour!

Glennis said...

Cheri, I'm bummed that you had a bad experience. I've heard the IS&S chain is uneven.

If you still trust me, you might check out the branch for Surati Farsan Mart in San Diego - here's the link to the address:

I've only gone to the one in Artesia I describe in my post, but the folks on Chowhound say the San Diego branch is good.

Anonymous said...

That was an outing I would have loved. In fact, you better hide that pillow if I come to your house - because it might end up in my luggage. ;-)

Just A Girl said...

Hey G.,
You made it to Little India. It's an interesting place isn't it? I just love the Cottage Arts store with all its linens. I've never been brave enough to eat down there but it looks like you all found some good eateries. Beware of the bangles...they stick to every type of fabric.
have a wonderful New Years!

Cori G.

shrink on the couch said...

Dang, you get around, girlfriend! And lucky for me. I get to learn about L.A. No, had never heard of Little India.

Oh, and, I wonder if those takmaria are the same as "Bubble" drinks sold around here, usually at Asian or Indian vendors. The bubbles are little gelitanous, soaked somethings or others, in the drinks. They feel/taste like tiny jelly beans, only not as sweet.

Queenly Things said...

I've never been there. What a paradise. We have lots of little Indian stores all over up here but nothing like that.

Woman in a Window said...

jingle, jingle, bangles like that have a magic all their own even if you can buy a dozen for eight bucks.

I wish, I wish, I had an exotic culture to explore here or bread like that, flat and rich!

SUEB0B said...

I love me some faloodeh. Mashti Malone's is great.

I stopped by Artesia one day and ate way too much. It was great.

I am a Tornado ~ proven fact! said...

It's been a long time since I've had halawa - yum! Sounds like a lovely trip. The pictures are so very colorful ... Mr.T and I were just watching a bollywood movie and agreed that India could be a great experience. Hopefully, some day (if not, I'll definitely make sure we visit 'Little India'. Thanks again for sharing your trip.

Dufflyn said...

Wow! I have looked at a couple pages on this "Little India" place and no one else was nearly as thorough. Finally, I know where to go before I even get there! Thank you so much I can't wait! I'm having a "moroccan/indian theme" birthday party and I need decor/food/etc. So excited! If you go to Paris, you might want to check out my blog (usually devoted to my memoir-in-progress about my mother). I went recently and found a couple interesting off-the-beaten-path places. Thanks again!