Scenes from Diwali Mela in Jackson Heights

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This chaat walla works in a restaurant that also sells Tibetan fare.

Over the past year or so I’ve taken to calling the neighborhood that radiates outward from the 74 St/Roosevelt Ave. subway stop Himalayan Heights, even giving food tours with that name. The moniker springs from the hood’s  increasing number of Tibetan and Nepalese joints. But this part of Jackson Heights was once known as Little India. With its sari salons and bridal jewelry shops it still has a huge Indian presence.I was reminded of this fact at Diwali Mela. The festival took place along 74 St. on Sunday and featured plenty of Indian food vendors as well as live performances of bhangra dancing. There was nary a momo or cup of butter tea in sight.

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Dosa Delight was on hand griddling up its
namesake Indian rice and lentil flour snacks.

Dosa—the rice and lentil flour crepe—that often takes the form of a huge cone that can engulf an entire dinner table isn’t exactly a popular  street food in Jackson Heights.  That didn’t faze the folks from Dosa Delight though. They were on hand griddling up compact versions of mysore masala dosa, cut into four pieces to make for easier eating. It was fun to watch the dosai being made right in front of my eyes and even more fun to tuck into the incredibly spicy crepe.

The gang  from Al Naimat  Sweets fries up fresh jalebi.

Jalebi, a sugary pretzel-like treat is a staple of neighborhood  sweet shops. The Diwali festival is one the few times one can see them being freshly made. Swooping squiggles of wheat dough are squirted into a vat of oil. Once the frying’s finished they’re given a bath in sugar syrup.

Ful pitha, a Bangladeshi sweet made from toasted rice.

I skipped the jalebi. Minutes later I encountered an entire table covered with Bangladeshi sweets. I chose ful pitha, a rather ornate specimen that calls to mind henna mehndi tattoos. As I sat in the the plaza munching on the sticky rice based treat, I counted myself luck to be in Little India that day.