Niagara Falls, major tourist spot, majestic natural wonder. Yes, but Little India? During our recent travels we headed up to the US border with Canada to take in ‘the Falls’. I’d been expecting a mini-Vegas, at the very least a grim barrage of souvenir emporiums lining our route to the spectacle itself. I’d also been warned that I’d see nothing from the American side, and that the almost-eight-hour journey door-to-door was only worth it if we crossed the border into Canada to see the famed Horseshoe Falls.
In the event, our brief wander through Niagara was pleasant. Yes, there were souvenir shops and concessions, but most housed in purpose-built local stone shops, which sat alongside some quirky old buildings, a nod to the period when the Falls was first ‘discovered’ and brought tourists of a different sort, seeking healing and enlightenment. The Falls themselves are part of a nicely landscaped national park on the US side, which further eases the transition from resort town to roaring waters. The park runs alongside the dramatic rapids that feed the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, which themselves can be seen better from a vast observation platform planted in the river that runs from the base of the Falls.
Adding to the list of surprises was the presence of Little India. This was felt immediately as we spied an Indian restaurant across from the car park. The presence magnified the further towards the Falls we approached, with one Indian concession after another. The lure of Jain and vegan was like some sort of utopia after a route of deja vu Arbys, Wendys, MacDonalds, and iHop. Instead we were offered the likes of Bollywood Bistro and a Taste of India, hardly original but why reinvent the wheel?
Ultimately we chose an Indian-sounding place, with a modern sign and row of fresh international flags fluttering outside its entryway. None of this belied the interior, which was a swift transition back to the sub-continent from the random job creation to the lay-out. At the base of an unnecessary carpeted ramp was a cross between a welcome podium and cash register, manned by two eager youths, one of South Asian origin, the other, who alternated between the podium and kitchen, indistinguishable in his birthplace.
If he was the chef, he was kick-ass. The food, which was laid out on self-service hot plates was incredible. It’s surprisingly hard to find decent South Asian food in North America. It’s not that it’s been bastardised like some other cuisines, it just simply doesn’t exist in most places. My husband will disappear to a formica-tabled concession in Virginia frequented by Pakistani-taxi drivers for his curry fix, but we’ve yet to find a Little India near DC.
We sat at a table wrapped in white paper, circled with obligatory South Asian chairs. Like the ubiquitous plastic bathing jug that inhabits most South Asian bathrooms, the region also seems to favour a specific type of chair. The restaurant served up a purple velour version, with spray gold legs and back, almost exactly the same model I’ve seen in countless conference facilities and hotel eateries in Pakistan. Adding to the authentic vibe was the restaurant’s odd layout. Tables, a bank of food sitting in the middle, and a strange ante-room beyond this, separated by an array of Bhutanese-styled prayer flags,
I assume this was the room to which one retires after a hearty meal, but it looked largely unused, situated as it was aside from the bathrooms. It contained pink upholstered chairs, an array of dolls in ethnic costume, and lengths of birds and animals so beloved by charitable foundations looking to promote local female artisanal skills and wage earning capabilities.
Finally, the background noise and entertainment was a widescreen with a racy Bollywood number playing. The screen was directly opposite the welcome/cash desk, and probably explained the regular presence of the possible chef as the two young men ogled their way through the evening interspersing their entertainment with customer service that included the ordering of canned sodas and various speciality breads.
It was an enjoyable dip back into one of our favourite regions, but I have yet to fathom why Niagara is home to quite so many South Asian eateries. Canada has a pretty large diaspora, so perhaps the lure of a glimpse of the US makes for an entertaining day trip, but not sufficiently alluring to try a burger and fries.