Celebrating Diwali in Vancouver’s Little India District

Diwali, the five-day religious festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, is in full swing in Vancouver this week, running from Nov.2-7.   In an earlier post, Dana outlined the events happening downtown, including a big free celebration this Sunday at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown featuring feasting, dancing and dozens of other performances.

Another great place to celebrate Diwali is the Vancouver neighborhood known as Little India (sometimes referred to as the Punjabi Market), which is located along three blocks near Main and 49th Streets.   I think this is one of the most unique and culturally rich sections of Vancouver.  While lots of cities in North America can boast of Chinatowns and Little Italies, few have their own Little India.

The restaurants and shops along this stretch of Main Street are unfailingly authentic, catering to the one in eight Metro Vancouver residents with roots in countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  The easiest point of entry for most visitors into the neighborhood  may well be via the food.  Several Indian restaurants are clustered within a few blocks of one another, generally offering buffets featuring curries and traditional dishes.

The granddaddy of them all is All India Sweets and Restaurant, on the corner of Main and 49th Streets.  Like other restaurants in the neighborhood, they offer a buffet and a full menu with everything from samosas and dosas to butter chicken and tandoori dishes, as well as vegetarian plates like alu gobi (potatoes and cauliflower) and mutter paneer (peas and cheese in Punjabi curry).

But they’ve also got an extensive selection of homemade traditional desserts.   In the display case up front is a rainbow-colored assortment of sweets made from almonds and pistachios, carrots and coconut and, of course, milk and sugar.   You get to pick and choose your favorites and pay by weight (around $6.50 per pound).  Several other restaurants in Little India also offer a great selection of sweets.

Little India is also filled with boutiques selling traditional Indian clothing: sarees, shiny bangles and intricate gold and silver jewelry.   For me, the most interesting shop on the strip is Guru Bazaar Bridal.  Inside, you’ll find elaborate Indian wedding dresses and formal wear.  I was admiring one dress – a brilliant silk number decorated with thousands of hand-sewn beads and sequins – when the saleswoman told me it cost $6,000.

There’s a lot to explore in the three blocks of Little India.  And during the festive week of Diwali is one of the the best times to do it.

Anyone else a fan of Little India (also known as the Punjabi Market)?  Favorite shops or restaurants?  Please comment below.

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