Exploring Nishi Kasai, Tokyo’s Little India
Visions of Bollywood dancers, swirling saris and the wafting aromas of spices filled my head as I trekked across town to discover the enclave of Tokyo some call “Little India." The journey is straightforward enough. Take the Hibiya line to Kayabacho station, change to the Tozai line and get out at Nishi Kasai. My research had revealed the longest operating Indian restaurant in the suburb, Spice Magic Calcutta, was only a few blocks from the station. This was looking all too easy.
A nondescript looking restaurant , Spice Magic Calcutta was full of diners enjoying the holiday special. The owner kindly gave me some information about other Indian restaurants and shops in the area, but sadly had to admit that the affiliated own Spice Market Bazaar, a well renowned Indian spice shop, was now no longer in operation.
I walked on, looking for any clues to where Little India may be. There were none. The people in the streets of this tidy suburb were all Japanese. Families and couples were enjoying the holiday by window shopping or eating in the very typical Japanese restaurants.
Completely frustrated, I finally found a small grocery store selling pre-packaged, dehydrated Indian food. The shelves were sparsely filled. The Indian proprietor confirmed that this was indeed Little India and offered to take me to an authentic Southern Indian restaurant a few blocks away. Another older Indian gentleman took my hand and led me to Amudhasurabhi, two blocks away. Literally. He held my hand until he deposited me at the restaurant, and then sat watching me eat my set curry meal and lassi drink. The food was excellent, the lassi delicious and the price incredible: just ¥700.
Declining any further assistance from my newfound friend, I set off to find any one of the other three restaurants on my list and another promised bazaar. I could not help but wonder as to why this area had earned the title of “Little India.” I did not see a single Indian person who was not working in a restaurant or in an Indian grocery store. I had read that over 2,000 Indians live in this suburb. Where were they then?
More frustration and dead ends followed, and after an hour of searching I was ready to give up. Turning to retrace my steps to the station, I looked up and saw the sister shop of Spice Magic Calcutta. Full of Japanese customers, I decided not to enter, but saw a side door open. Here the chefs were busily slapping naan bread into the tandoor oven and tossing freshly stir fried curries around in hot woks. In between dishes they told me to head over the tracks to find the Swagat Indian Bazaar, which is “very, very Indian,” they assured me.
Fortunately, I found this grocery store with no difficulty. And what a find it is. Strictly business, there is no decoration or fuss, just chrome shelving and a couple of freezers. Here, too, were many Japanese customers picking up their supplies of lentils, spices and sweets. I was disappointed that the spices were either prepackaged or canned, having hoped to find mounds of gloriously colored turmeric, coriander and chili powders. It was not to be.
The manager, Alok, was busy tending the cash register while I perused the stock. There is no doubt that Swagat holds all the essentials for your Indian culinary needs, including big beautiful bags of pistachios, cashews and almonds, and compared to costs in other parts of town, they are very inexpensive. Mr. Alok also stocks a small range of Indian incense and beauty products. I was very interested in the range of hair products, and after much discussion on the pros and cons of each, I was persuaded to buy the almond hair treatment which, Mr. Alok confided to me, he uses himself.
Another purchase was a pack of the sweet fennel seeds, those colorful confetti pieces that one finds near the cash register at every Indian restaurant. Used as a breath freshener, they are handy after a curry meal. Mr. Alok suggested returning to Little India during one of the traditional Indian holidays when, he assured me, Indian people are out and about in the streets.
You will probably find more Indian restaurants in Hiroo or Roppongi, and there are some great Indian spice shops in Ameyokocho Market in Ueno. So, would I go back to Little India? Certainly. I already need more of my almond hair conditioner.
Spice Magic Calcutta
Address: 3-13-3 Nishi Kasai, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo
Address: B1, 5-1-5 Nishi Kasai, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo
Swagat Indian Bazaar
Address: 5-11-11, Nishi Kasai, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo