A local’s recommendations for Queens Bengali staples

Take some time away from Greenwich Village to experience this Bengali home away from home.

A+streetscape+in+Jamaica%2C+Queens.+Vendors+selling+fruits+are+in+the+foreground.+To+the+left%2C+a+bus+stop+sign+in+front+of+a+Bangladeshi+flag+and+a+subway+entrance.+To+the+right%2C+a+street+sign+indicating+the+intersection+of+169th+Street+and+Broadway.

Aaliya Luthra

169th Street and below in Jamaica, Queens, is home to many Bengali stores. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Pritheva Zakaria, Contributing Writer

Queens is home to some of the city’s most ethnically diverse cuisines. Among the immigrant communities that have found their place in Jamaica, Queens, the Bangladeshi population has been fast growing. While I grew up in Deer Park on Long Island, my family and I would travel regularly to Jamaica to get authentic South Asian food and buy clothes. Now that many South Asians, including my family, have made Jamaica their personal hub, I wanted to share some of the Bengali-owned places that make Jamaica a place that I call home. 

As you walk down Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, storefront signs shift from English to Bengali, Hindi and Arabic, and you start to find Bangladeshi flags adorning buildings. Next to the fruit stands that line the streets, you’ll see grocery stores carrying South Asian staples from spice mixes to fruits and vegetables such as bottle gourd, tamarind, lychees, lemongrass and jamuns.

One of the most popular grocery stores in Jamaica is Mannan Supermarket. I grew up going there every weekend with my parents to buy groceries. We would make the weekly hourlong trek to Jamaica because nowhere else seemed to compare when it came to my parents’ standards for Bengali food. Beyond Bengali food, Jamaica hosts an array of Indian and Pakistani restaurants, which keep South Asians families like mine coming back. People of the same culture and background speak the same language and wear the same clothing. Back on Long Island, my family and I simply didn’t have that.

Beyond food, Jamaica’s South Asian clothing stores are what I adore the most. Sajna is where my family and I shopped for traditional Bengali clothing, like salwar kameez, for Eid every year. The salwar kameez consists of a long dress with a matching scarf known as the orna in Bengali. Every shade of pink one could imagine was there —  I felt like I was in clothing heaven. They also have heels with jewels and gold encasings — perfect for festive occasions. As soon as you step in, jewels, gold, luxury and the aroma of sheer fabric enriches every corner. It reminds me exactly of the scent in Bangladeshi clothing stores.

You can’t walk away without bargaining at the stalls along Hillside Avenue. I used to watch as people haggled with vendors for lower prices, tricking them into thinking that they weren’t even interested in the piece of clothing. My mom always does this when we’re in Bangladesh. Vendors vary day by day, but you will always find someone trying to sell you something. Now that you know the tactic that my mom uses, you’ll be all set for this local shopping experience.

After following my parents around all day at the mannans and clothing stores, my reward for being on my best behavior was a trip to Crown Fried Chicken. The chicken they serve is fresh and halal. They serve comfort food ranging from fried chicken to chicken sandwiches. Going to Crown Fried Chicken made my whole journey to Jamaica worth it. I’ve had everything on their menu and their prices are affordable. We even brought fries and the chicken home to eat later.

On those special days when my parents or relatives wanted to treat us to dinner, you’d find us dining at Sagar Chinese, located at 8747 Homelawn St. Even though this joint is an Indian take on Chinese cuisine, you can find many Bengalis frequenting its tables. I always look forward to their famous Lolly Pop Chicken, fried rice and chicken soup. It’s extremely comforting to sit at its big tables with your whole family, not to mention the food is also halal.

Everything about Jamaica is home to me. It’s comforting to know that I could go to Jamaica practically anytime — I just need to catch the F train. Why not take a little break from Greenwich Village and take a trip to the best borough?

Contact Pritheva Zakaria at [email protected]