New businesses cater to area's growing South Asian population

JULIE SHAW / DAILY NEWS STAFF Frieda Taylor finds elements of home at Apna Bazar in Bensalem, with son Elliott, 5.
JULIE SHAW / DAILY NEWS STAFF Frieda Taylor finds elements of home at Apna Bazar in Bensalem, with son Elliott, 5.
Posted: June 11, 2014

FRIEDA TAYLOR, a native of Gujarat state in northwest India, travels from her home in Philadelphia's Spring Garden section to Bensalem to go food shopping.

She likes the new Apna Bazar Cash & Carry supermarket on Street Road, where she can buy ingredients to make roti bread and other Indian fare. Apna "has different variety and they're more fresh," she said as she browsed the aisles with her son Elliott, 5.

"I need some tea and chapati flour," she said. She also picked up basmati rice and chocolate cookies.

Taylor, 33, a math and reading tutor, came to Philadelphia from India in 2007.

Apna Bazar, which opened in December, carries colorful jars of mango and coriander chutney, spicy chickpea-flour snacks, frozen naan bread, basmati rice, chicken-curry and biryani sauce mixes, dal (dried lentils and other legumes), fresh fruits, mango juices, jaggery sugar, incense sticks, hair oils made with cactus and garlic, and many other items catering to the growing South Asian population in the Philadelphia area.

Most customers are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, said manager Nikhil Bajaj, 32, as a song by top Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam played overhead in the brightly lit market.

Apna Bazar translates from Hindi as either "My Market" or "Your Market," Bajaj said. It's a chain with other locations in New York and New Jersey.

As the number of people of South Asian descent in Philly and its four surrounding Pennsylvania counties has risen - by 35,000 to about 73,000 from 2000 to 2010, according to census data - businesses that cater to them have cropped up.

People of Indian descent accounted for about 79 percent of that increase, Pakistani about 10 percent and Bangladeshi about 7 percent. The remaining 4 percent are of Bhutanese, Burmese, Nepalese and Sri Lankan origin.

In the city, many live in West Philly, the Northeast and South Philadelphia.

Jennifer Babu, 22, who graduated from Temple University last month with a degree in journalism, created an entertainment website, Videshi Magazine. "The target audience is the South Asian audience," she said.

With its large, bold letters and plenty of pictures, pulls a reader in with short articles about movie stars like Dev Patel of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame, Mindy Kaling of "The Mindy Project" and Kal Penn of "Harold & Kumar."

It also has articles about comics, fashion models and Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A.

Babu launched the website in September. It grew out of a project at Temple last spring.

"I thought I never saw people like me in magazines," she said. "I wanted to talk about not only what's the latest, but to analyze and critique the status quo . . . It makes sense to challenge the way people are portrayed."

But, mostly, "I wanted to have a place where people who looked like me could be celebrated."

Babu was born in the United States. Her parents are from southern India.

Fariha Khan, associate director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that the range of businesses in Philadelphia catering to the South Asian population "lacks the diversity" one finds in Edison, N.J., or in New York City.

Edison and New York have clothing and jewelry stores and wedding-related shops that appeal to the South Asian market, she said. In Philly, the businesses are more food-related, she said.

Several eateries have opened in recent months in Philadelphia catering to people from South Asia, but also to a wider clientele.

Chef-owner Rakesh Ramola, who is from India, and his wife, Heather, opened Indeblue restaurant on 13th Street near Walnut a year ago.

"I think Philadelphia really needed a nice Indian restaurant where Indians can come and get real traditional Indian food," said Heather Ramola, who is of Irish and Italian descent.

In West Philly, which already had popular South Asian eateries and Islamic halal-meat markets and restaurants, Shaban Kabab & Curry, a Pakistani eatery, opened earlier this year on 42nd Street near Chestnut.

As Pakistani rock videos played on a TV screen in the small restaurant, owner Muhamad Sajjad acknowledged that the food, like the chicken bihari kabab roll, is "a notch up" in spiciness.

"The thing is, it's not like plain food," he said. "It's authentic, what we got back home."

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

comments powered by Disqus