You know you’ve arrived somewhere special when you can smell your destination before you actually get there. Welcome to the Murray Hill section of New York, and to the little Indian enclave affectionately known as Curry Hill, where the intoxicating aromas of curry and saffron greet you blocks in advance.
Regional restaurants, spice markets and sari shops dot the area surrounding Curry Hill’s epicenter at Lexington Avenue and 28th. One local favorite, the aptly named Curry-in-a-Hurry, is easy to spot by the steady line of taxis parked out front. Drivers flock here from across the city, looking for an authentic, satisfying and quick taste of home. The vegetarian samosas filled with a spiced chickpea mixture and fried to a crisp, golden brown, are as delicious as they are popular.
Relative newcomer Desi Galli whips up some of India’s most beloved street fare. Their chicken tikka masala kathi rolls are the best I’ve ever had. Mango kulfi (Indian ice cream) is rich, refreshing and simply delicious. Top it all off with lemony-lime Limca soda brought over straight from the subcontinent, and you’ve got a flavor combination that’s hard to beat.
Although named for its numerous Indian restaurants, they only represent a small part of the neighborhoods diverse offerings. At Haandi, for example, Pakistanis devour the pungent and meaty tastes of home. The house specialty, an ultra-decadent gelatinous goat foot stew, always goes quick. Likewise at Chal Chilli, popular spices, ingredients and preparations for Thai and Indian cuisine are mixed and matched into a truly unique South Asian cuisine.
When exploring Curry Hill, make time to visit Kalustyan’s, a well-loved, well-stocked exotic marketplace that has been catering to home cooks and top restaurant chefs alike since 1948. This culinary landmark offers over 4,000 varieties of spices, herbs, sweets, coffee, tea, nuts dried fruit, breads and virtually any and every hard-to-find ethnic ingredient imaginable. Their homemade hummus and baba ganoush are outstanding, as are the many other Middle Eastern delicacies they prepare daily. Be sure to take some home.
Curry Hill is not all about food, however. The tailors at shops like Lexington Saree Palace and Om Saree Palace use extravagantly detailed fabrics imported from India to create bespoke clothing from traditional ceremonial wedding attire to everyday wear.
Beauty stores, too, sell imported potions and provide the beautifying services that have been part of Indian culture for centuries. Walking down the street, it is easy to forget that you’re actually in New York City.
I didn’t realize I liked curry until later in my life, but I’m glad I know now. Lucky for me, I live not too far from the Curry Hill strip. Whenever I’m in need of a quick escape, you know where to find me.