I am so behind with writing blogs I many never catch up. So I decided to start with the latest adventure first and work backwards.
For months now KL and I have wanted to visit Little India (or Artesia International and Cultural Shopping District) so when my copy of the January/February AAA Westways magazine arrived with an article on that location, we decided to set a date. That day was yesterday, Sunday, March 27.
We started out from Culver City at approximately 10:30 am. KL had called a while earlier from the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) to inform me it was raining cats and dogs and she was wondering if she should turn around. From my deck I could see it was raining lightly. There were bright patches in the sky over the area we were planning to visit so we decided to take a chance, even though there had been some pretty heavy storms in the days preceding. I was cold to the bone in my house so I wore plenty of layers to keep warm.
We took the 405 to the 91 and exited at Pioneer Boulevard. Just a few blocks south we passed 186th Street and found a parking space on the street. The sign specified two hours parking so we figured we would move the car later. However, as we were walking back to the car to move it, we noticed the street signs on the other side of Pioneer all had the usual “Except Sundays” qualifier we had not noticed when we parked. Sure enough when we checked, all the signs on our side of the street had the “Except Sundays” text covered up by another sign so we could only assume it was okay to remain parked. We didn’t get a ticket so that must be the case.
Most of the shops in Little India are either clothing stores selling saris (sarees) or markets specializing in Indian spices and groceries, not to mention the eyebrow threading parlors. The saris are beautiful but there are only so many you can look at. I tried to take a photo of a sari in a display window but the saleslady came charging out to announce that no photos were allowed. I already had one photo from another shop anyway. As for the eyebrow threading, it is apparently an ancient method of hair removal that is more precise than waxing and does not require chemicals.
I was much more intrigued by the grocery stores. Although India was a British colony at one time, I was not expecting to see so many familiar products from my English childhood such as Horlicks, Tate & Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Rybena and many others. As payback for giving India Marmite, Britain got curry. I think we received the better end of that bargain! (Okay, I do like Marmite.)
I wanted to buy some kind of food as a souvenir of the trip and decided on three different kinds of Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khazana spice mixes: Methi Chaman Biryani, Korma Curry and Paneer Butter Masala. One of the customers informed us his brand was the best and that the first in this list was her favorite. This morning I cooked my usual pot of whole rice and grains with mixed dry beans. I prepared the Methi Chaman Biryani spice mix with a whole head of chopped, sautéed fresh garlic and added it to the beans and rice. I divided up the mixture into one-cup Pyrex storage bowls to freeze and kept out enough for breakfast. A suggested serving is with raita. I decided plain Greek yogurt was close enough so I piled a few tablespoons on top. Oh my, absolute heaven! It was so good I had more of the rice dish with veggies for dinner.
But back to yesterday. As lunchtime approached and our tummies were rumbling we poked our heads into several restaurants but were not feeling the warm fuzzies. Then we saw a sign for a Pakistani/Indian restaurant offering a buffet and that fit the bill. Shan has no glitz or glamour, just a comfortable, homey place. The buffet offers every kind of Indian food you could want in a tiny space and you are elbow to elbow with other customers reaching into the tureens. The buffet offers chicken and mutton but as I don’t eat four-legged animals I helped myself to ample servings of the three kinds of chicken dishes. I also chose two kinds of rice, fried veggies and raita. Every morsel was totally scrumptious. Before we could even finish the freshly baked naan bread, more was placed in our basket. Every table has its own personal jug of water with metal drinking cups.
We walked around a little more and then, saving the best for last, we visited Cottage Art with beautiful and unique home décor items such as bedspreads, pillows, mirrors, furniture (I wanted to drag the four-poster bed home with me) and everything else under the brilliant Indian sun. I couldn’t resist buying a sheer scarf which will go with just about every shade of black that I wear.
Both KL and I were somewhat disappointed that we had not been able to discover some kind of cultural center in the area such as a museum or art gallery. Also, we were expecting to find more shops like Cottage Art with fabrics, artifacts and tchotskies imported from India—kinda like an Indian Cost Plus Imports. Well, I guess we could just go to Cost Plus Imports!
By the time we left mid-afternoon the skies were blue, the sun was blazing and the air felt like it was in the 80s (27+C)—a total contrast to the morning hours when I was shivering and turning blue. We do have seasons in southern California but sometimes they all occur in the same day!
(photos copyright roslyn m wilkins)