The city of Pittsburgh began to experience a rise in Indian immigration in the '70s, the result of U.S. laws granting naturalization to a number of young, educated professionals. The oldest Hindu temple in North America, Sri Venkatesavara, was built in Penn Hills and since then Indian groceries and restaurants began to pop up in different parts of town.
That being said, you don't need to go far to enjoy authentic South India cuisine. South Craig Street in Oakland, and the South Hills are both home to Tamarind Flavors of India. A sweet-sour pulpy fruit used throughout India, Tamarind [Flavors of India] is housed in an old Victorian, with hardwood floors and natural lighting, to make you feel right at home. Visit the South Hills location if you're really in the mood for South Indian specialties like idli (fermented lentil cakes) or vadas (fried savory donuts made with black lentil paste).
South Indian food is notoriously spicy, and always accompanied with rice. "We use basmati, the prize rice grown in the foothills of the Himalayas." says Varma Sagi, owner. He is serious about making delicious, high quality, and authentic food. What keeps guests coming back for more: Keralan eggplant curry; it's a favorite!
Only a short road trip from Pittsburgh, and you're in West Virginia, home to The Palace of Gold. Also known as "America's Taj Mahal", The Palace of Gold was built as a memorial for the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness movement, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada lived in New York City in the 1960s before receiving a calling from Lord Krishna that he must start a community for ISKCON in the wild woods of West Virginia. Lord Krishna bridges the mortal and immortal worlds, and is often depicted as an impish, blue-skinned baby with his arm elbow-deep in a jug of ghee, clarified butter that is a necessary staple in Indian cookery.
Krishna grew into a heroic warrior and teacher who gives philosophical guidance in the Bhagavad-Gita, and one can honor him at the Radha Vrindaban Chandra Temple. When approaching the temple, you'll notice a tent set up on the lawn with families gathered around, waiting for the Prasad—the blessed food—to be served at the Sunday Love Feast.
Festivals are a way to express devotion to Krishna, and the Sunday Love Feast is just one of many. The Sunday Love Feast is a time when scripture is read, kirtans are sung, and the blessed food is served to visitors free of charge.
Aloo, potato mixed with green beans and flecked with mustard seeds; channa masala; and kheer for dessert, which is served warm and chock-full of almonds, almost like drinking a rice-pudding milkshake—just a sample of what to look for if joining at the Feast.
Only a few hundred feet away lives the Santee community garden, where all the vegetables lived earlier in the day. Tapa Punja is the head gardener and director of Small Farm Training Center, a program that not only provides food for New Vrindaban, but also garden space for local West Virginia residents to tend. Small Farm also works with area food banks and school programs in educating people on the benefits of eating organically local.
It's a breathtaking view as you make your way back to Pittsburgh. The top of the Palace burns gold as the late day sun is setting, a place that feels completely different, but not so far away from home.