A Taste of Diwali
by Anthony Ewing
Diwali is celebrated over several days, coinciding with the fall harvest, and traditionally, the darkest night of autumn. This year, the holiday falls on Sunday, October 30. Many Indian-Americans observe Diwali, which celebrates the symbolic victory of light over darkness, or good over evil. People decorate their homes and businesses with lamps (diya) and candles for the holiday. On the day of Diwali, families offer prayers (puja) to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The festival features fireworks, celebratory meals and the exchange of gifts and sweets (mithai). Diwali-themed street fairs and markets (melas) are also common from mid-October through mid-November.
With the third-largest Asian Indian population in the United States, New Jersey is home to many Diwali celebrations. New Jerseyans born in India, in fact, make up the highest share of our state’s foreign-born population. Edison, Jersey City, and Woodbridge have the largest Indian-American communities in the state.
Food, of course, is a centerpiece of Diwali’s public festivals and family gatherings. We are fortunate in New Jersey to have plenty of choices for excellent Indian cuisine, in many regional varieties. Whether you prefer North Indian meats stewed in complex spice mixtures or grilled in a clay oven (tandoor), flatbreads (roti, paratha, naan), and hearty rice biryanis, or fiery South Indian dishes like potato-filled crepes (dosas), spicy lentil stew (sambar), and steamed rice cakes (idli), you can find them all in Jersey.
Want to share in the festivities? Here are 10 restaurants across the Garden State where you can get a taste of the Diwali celebration. For the highest concentration of Indian restaurants head to Jersey City’s Little India, along Newark Avenue or to Oak Tree Road between Edison and Woodbridge—the central hub for Middlesex County’s South Asian community. Some Indian restaurants are vegetarian only. (Diwali meals are typically vegetarian, but many New Jersey Indian restaurants have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian menus. Visit EthnicNJ.com to see these restaurants—and a full list of New Jersey’s best spots for Indian food—on one map.
Aarzu Modern Indian Bistro – Freehold
30 East Main Street
Opened in July, an upscale setting featuring modern Indian cuisine with creative flourishes. Serving a Diwali special tasting menu through October 30.
Bollywood Grill – Parsippany
435 North Beverwyck Road
Popular Indian street food and snacks in a fast-food setting.
Brick Lane Curry House – Montclair
540 Valley Road
Known for its impressive list of British-style curries, including both meat and vegetable masalas, kormas and vindaloos. There is a second NJ location at 34 Franklin Avenue in Ridgewood.
Dhoom – Secaucus
217 Route 3 East
A Bollywood-themed restaurant, bar and lounge near the Meadowlands.
Dosa Grill – North Brunswick (Vegetarian)
1980 Route 27
Offering a wide variety of dosas—South India’s signature street food—with both North and South Indian vegetarian dishes.
IndeBlue – Collingswood
619 Collings Avenue
A fresh mix of modern and traditional Indian cuisine in the Philly suburbs.
Jassi Sweets – Woodbridge
1404 Oak Tree Road
The tasty Indian sweets sold here are the perfect Diwali gift.
Jhupdi – Edison (vegetarian)
1679 Oak Tree Road
Serving the cuisine of the Indian state of Gujarat, like thali platters, featuring both spicy and sweet vegetable mixtures and chutneys. The Gujarati New Year is traditionally celebrated the day after Diwali.
Myilai Masala – Hamilton
116 Flock Road
Featuring the South Indian food of Chennai. Offering a Diwali special buffet through October 30th.
Sapthagiri – Jersey City (vegetarian)
804 Newark Avenue
A must stop in Jersey City’s “Little India” for South Indian vegetarian cuisine. A second location is at 3151 Route 27 South, in Franklin Park.
Anthony Ewing is the founder of EthnicNJ, which celebrates the many cuisines and communities of New Jersey. EthnicNJ has mapped over 1,100 NJ restaurants serving some 65 different cuisines.