Vancouver’s Little India: Inside the Punjabi Market District

punjabiWhile Vancouver is known as a gateway to China, the city is also home to more than 200,000 people of Indian and Pakistani descent. Perhaps nowhere is that culture more vibrant than in the thriving Punjabi Market District.

Cross 49th Street in Vancouver’s south side and you’re transported to a world of glittering bangles and flowing saris, with the rich aroma of curries and spices in the air. Stretching for six blocks, the Punjabi Market District was originally settled more than a century ago by immigrant laborers from Punjab, a state along the India-Pakistan border. A mass influx of Punjabis in the 1970s made the neighborhood what it is today.

For visitors, the district offers an intimate glimpse of South Asian culture, on Canada’s Pacific Coast. Stop in the legendary All India Sweets and Restaurant for richly spiced samosas, butter chicken and their lavish vegetarian buffet. And don’t miss the array of homemade desserts – from jalebi (deep-fried wheat flour dipped in sweet syrup) to barfi (a decadent, marzipan-like sweet made with sugar and condensed milk). A half-dozen restaurants in the neighborhood offer a similarly enticing array of Indian delicacies.

Stroll on past shops selling fine silk saris in a rainbow of colors, richly woven pashminas and elaborately ornamented wedding gowns bedazzled with thousands of tiny gems. Listen to Bhangra music – festive, danceable hits from the latest Bollywood blockbusters – pumping out of storefronts. Get lost in shops filled with cheap bangles in every imaginable hue and window shop at fine jewelers offering exquisite gold rings, bracelets and necklaces.

And in April, the Punjabi Market District comes alive for Vaisakhi Day, the Sikh New Year. On April 14, a high-energy, colorful parade – complete with free food and live music – winds its way through the district, attracting some 50,000 spectators.

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