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first Indian restaurant?


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what might be the first Indian restaurant in North America?

Fine question.

There must have been informal eating houses set up for the benefit of the (mostly Punjabi) earliest Indian migrants who worked in the lumber yards of the North-West. Wherever Indians have gone, we've taken our spices and cooking techniques, and these first Indian-Americans cannot have been an exception.

But, given the racial politics of the time, it's very unlikely that such eating houses came even close to being "restaurants." Remember that those migrants were chased out of the region with riots, violence, and the political pressure of an expressly anti-Indian Asian Exclusion League.

So, my bet is that we can possibly track the first Indian restaurant - as we'd recognize one - to San Francisco, and if you search city records you'll probably be able to place one or more in the interwar years of the early 20th century. This was a time when the anti-colonial Gadar Party was set up. These fiery young men must have met someplace - I'm guessing there were restaurants to serve them and probably a broader audience. There was even a Brit spy deputed to track them and turn them in for expulsion (with the State department willing to oblige), perhaps we can get the answer to this question by tracing Hopkinson's many recorded statements at trial.

In NYC, Kalustyan was the famous and only spice shop for decades, and the first Manhattan Little India rose up around it. I think the store has been open since soon after WWII - but it wasn't a restaurant until it started serving some food quite recently.

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My mother got married in 1953, and some time before that briefly dated the son of the owner of the Karachi Rice Shop, which used to be on 46 St. between 6th and 7th Avs. in Manhattan, so you can figure that restaurant was around from some time in the 40s at least, I suppose.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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In the washington DC area there is the Taj Mahal which touts itself as the oldest restaurant in the area, though I don't know since when. There also I believe used to be a Gaylord restaurant which closed down.

This is a really interesting question. We can perhaps send a link of this thread to INDIA ABROAD and they can assign a reporter to research it. Should make a great article.

Bombay Curry Company

3110 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. 703. 836-6363

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

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My husband and I came to Chicago in 1967 and at the time the city had only one Indian restaurant whose name I have forgotten --something generic, like House of India -- run by a Colonel Abdullah who claimed to have been in the Indian army and to have a PH.D. in psychology from St. Xaviers, Calcutta. We got to know him and it turned out he was actually a black guy from Tallahassee, Florida, who was based in Calcutta during WWII and liked Indian food. The restaurant was in the nightclub district and was rather upscale. He used to hire Indian students ( and there weren't very many in those days ) as waiters. A few years later a local PR guy named Chablani opened Bengal Lancers, which was again rather posh and ostensibly featured dishes from British India. The restaurants and their interesting owners have, alas, long since disappeared.

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from Vijay Prashad's The Karma of Brown Folk:

In 1847 Charles Huffnagle, one-time US consul at Calcutta, opened a private museum at his home, called Springdale, in New Hope, Pennsylvania, to house his collection of humped Brahmani bulls (one named Maha Rajah), safari trophies, books, and household idols. Visitors from the Atlantic coast viewed the museum on Tuesdays and stopped to "eat crystallised Calcutta sugar and to sip Mocha coffee and rare Assam teas."

Not the earliest Indian restaurant, but perhaps the earliest Indian tea-shop? There doesn't seem to be anything else about restaurants in Prashad's book (though he may know something about it, I'll try and get in touch with him). From his general description of early Indian migrants to the US, bhelpuri's hypothesis seems likely, that the first Indian restaurants were found on the west coast. The other alternatives could be in or near Boston, which had a connection with India due to the ice trade (there's an interesting book on this called "The Frozen Water Trade"), or, a long shot, Chicago, in the wake of the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 where Vivekandana made such an impact.

Vikram

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