: Masala in Ashland

How to Celebrate South Asian Cultures in Oregon

Dive into the colorful food, festivals, song and dance of India, Pakistan, Nepal and other nations.
September 1, 2021

Editor’s note: Face coverings (ages 5 and up) are required at all indoor and outdoor public spaces statewide, regardless of vaccination status. Learn more here. It’s also wildfire season — plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.

Many Oregonians can trace their heritage to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan, and Oregon’s South Asian community has long played an important role in shaping the state’s cultural and culinary scenes.  

“The South Asian culture remains vibrant in the Pacific Northwest,” says Nadia Hasan, a Beaverton city commissioner and one of the few South Asian elected officials in Oregon. “With roots tied to India and Pakistan, I continue to enjoy the fusion of my American and South Asian self. I am excited to help my kids, our kids and the community see the differences that make us unique and bring us together.

There are many ways to celebrate the diverse cultures of South Asia, right here in Oregon. You can dine on Sri Lankan curries or Himalayan momos, load up a grocery cart full of Indian snacks and spices, shop for elegant sarees, watch a Bharatanatyam dance performance or boogie the night away to Bollywood tunes — all without leaving the state. Here’s how to immerse yourself in the cultures of South Asia in Oregon.

Inviting exterior to a restaurant
Masala in Ashland features a menu full of creative takes on Indian classics. There's an incredible array of South Asian restaurants across Oregon — you just need to know where to look.
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Curries, Tandoori, Momos and Wraps

The Portland area has the largest selection of South Asian eateries in the state, with options ranging from Portland’s Mirisata, which puts a plant-based twist on Sri Lankan cuisine, to Hillsboro’s Chennai Masala, where the focus is on South Indian fare, often considered a lighter alternative to the rich North Indian and Pakistani dishes that many associate with Indian food. Also in Hillsboro, Chaat Cafe serves naan wraps and snacks that are common in North India and Pakistan but aren’t often found in American Indian restaurants, while downtown Portland’s Dil Se Indian Cuisine offers a wide array of regional curries from North and South India as well as the Indo-Chinese classic gobi (cauliflower) Manchurian. 

For a Himalayan-style experience, make your way to Northeast Portland’s Nepali Kitchen and Chai Garden, which serves Nepali curries and momos (stuffed dumplings) in a garden setting adorned with Tibetan prayer flags. If you want to try homestyle Indian fare, Gladstone’s Masala Box delivers, with a simple menu of Southern Indian curries and breads based on the owner’s family recipes.

There are plenty of Indian options outside of the Portland area, too. Located in an unassuming Aurora truck stop, the Sizzling Tandoori Hut food cart offers the closest thing to a traditional dhaba (roadside diner) you’ll find in Oregon, catering to Punjabi truck drivers and anyone with a taste for hearty North Indian fare. In Astoria Himani Indian Cuisine boasts a robust menu of North and South Indian dishes, as does Taj Palace Indian Cuisine in Bend. 

Both Corvallis and Eugene have branches of Evergreen Indian Restaurant, with a gargantuan menu of curries, rice dishes and tandoori meats. Real Taste of India has outlets in Roseburg, Medford and Klamath Falls, and serves all the subcontinental mainstays plus regional specialties (including seafood dishes originating in coastal communities), while Ashland’s Masala features a menu full of creative takes on Indian classics, plus street-food snacks and fusion dishes from fish and chips to tacos.

Bright pink jewels on top of turquoise fabric
Find beautifully crafted Indian clothing, accessories and jewelry at Amrapali in Hillsboro, one of Oregon's hot spots for South Asian cultures.

Spices, Sweets, Snacks and Sarees

If you’d like to try your hand at South Asian cooking yourself, or simply pick up some ready-made frozen meals from the subcontinent, your best bet is to head to the Beaverton and Hillsboro area just west of Portland, which is home to the largest selection of Indian supermarkets in Oregon. Among the largest, the aptly named India Supermarket offers row upon row of imported foods, from spices and fresh produce to cosmetics and kitchenware. Stick around for a snack at the on-site restaurant, India Connection, which serves meals and snack items to hungry shoppers. 

Not far from India Supermarket, Apna Bazaar sells a similar range of products, with a particularly noteworthy range of South Indian ingredients. The compact India Sweets & Spices offers a more modest selection of groceries and a great snack counter. Also in the area, Amrapali boutique sells beautifully crafted Indian clothing, accessories and jewelry. Threads by Nirmala sells elegant sarees, by appointment.

In the city of Portland, you can find plenty of grocery staples at Namaste Indian Bazaar in Northeast Portland, along with a takeout menu full of North Indian curries. In Salem head to Taj Indian Grocery & Sweets, while Desi Roots and Spices serves the Corvallis area with Indian ingredients and ready-to-eat meals. Eugene-area shoppers will find all of the essentials plus fresh produce and sweets at Vishnu India Imports.

People dressed in traditional Indian clothing dancing
Enjoy music, dance and yes, plenty of Indian food vendors, at the India Cultural Association’s India Festival in August.

Flying Colors, Floats, Festivities and Fun

Holi, the festival of colors, is among the best-known Hindu holidays and informally marks the beginning of spring. This joyous festival (typically held in March) is generally celebrated by playfully throwing colored powders on friends. Oregon’s largest Holi celebration is Rang Barse, normally held outdoors in Washington County. Portland’s Bollywood Dreams Entertainment hosts a smaller dance party to honor the holiday, Holi Hai, which generally includes Bollywood dance classes, a dance performance, DJs and — of course — plenty of flying colors. 

Salem’s Dasmesh Darbar Sikh Gurdwara’s most prominent annual event is their Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji Sahib’s Martyrdom Day Parade, held in mid-June each year. Highlights include a float carrying the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikhism’s holy scripture), as well as music and gatka (a Sikh martial art) demonstrations.

The city of Beaverton celebrates Aug. 8 as South Asian Legacy Day, a time to highlight South Asian cultures and share the identities of South Asian Americans with the greater community. The city’s mayor proclaimed the day of recognition in 2021 in collaboration with The Desi Project, a nonprofit founded by Jesuit High School students. The group works to empower South Asian teens to be more confident in their cultures and provide them with a platform to share their stories and cultures with the community.

Oregon’s most visible celebration of Indian culture is the India Cultural Association’s India Festival, held annually in mid-August at downtown Portland’s Pioneer Square. Festivities include music, dance performances and plenty of Indian food vendors. 

Prabashi, the Bengali Association of Greater Portland, holds community events throughout the year. The largest is Durga Puja, or Pujo, which usually takes place in late September or October. The holiday honors the Hindu goddess Durga and is the most important annual festival for Bengali Hindus. Festivities at this ticketed event include religious celebration, music and cultural performances, and special activities for children.

Diwali (also called Deepavali), the festival of lights, is the most significant holiday in most of India and Nepal. It marks the triumph of good over evil and usually falls in October or November, depending on the year. Traditions include lighting diyas (clay oil lamps), performing special prayers and rituals, and visiting friends, family and neighbors with gifts. While many people honor the holiday religiously, at home or at their local temple, the University of Oregon’s Students of the Indian Subcontinent in Eugene hosts annual community Diwali celebrations. The group also hosts Holi celebrations and an annual culture night.

 

Women in traditional Indian clothing perform a dance
Children perform a show at the Kalabharathi School of Dance, which promotes the Indian arts through concerts, recitals and performances open to the public.

Bollywood, Bhangra, Bharatanatyam and More

Oregon has been a destination for touring musicians and performers from South Asia for decades, owing largely to the efforts of Kalakendra. The Portland-based nonprofit has been working since 1987 to promote Indian performing arts, hosting concerts, recitals and performances by artists, primarily in the Portland area. Check their schedule for upcoming events.

Southern Oregon University in Ashland and Eugene’s University of Oregon often sponsor performers from the subcontinent, as do Oregon State University’s Indian Students Association and Pakistan Student Association in Corvallis. Connect with these groups to see what’s happening in their communities.  

If you’re interested in learning how to perform South Asian arts on your own, Portland’s Swaranjali Academy of Indian Music teaches classes in Hindustani vocals, tabla, sitar and harmonium, while NATYA Dance Academy and Kalabharathi School of Dance offer courses in classical Bharatanatyam dance. 

Southeast Portland’s Viscount Dance Studio offers lessons in Bhangra, a folk dance from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, as well as the occasional Bollywood dance workshop. Both styles are taught by Anjali Hursh, known in the Portland music scene as DJ Anjali — one half of the nightlife production duo DJ Anjali & The Incredible Kid. Their events include Andaz, a Bhangra and Bollywood party that’s been running since 2002, and Tropitaal, a “Desi-Latino soundclash” held monthly at The Goodfoot in Portland. If you’d rather listen from home, the Incredible Kid hosts a South Asian-centric radio music show, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Kush,” on KBOO Community Radio. It airs every Tuesday from 10 p.m. to midnight.

About The
Author

Margot Bigg
Margot Bigg grew up in Portland and England and after many years living in Europe and Asia (including six years in India), she once again calls the City of Roses home. When not traveling and writing, Margot spends her time studying new languages, discovering new music and seeking out new places to explore. She speaks English, French and Hindi, and is the author of Moon Living Abroad in India and Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur; and a co-author of Fodor's Essential India, Fodor's Oregon, and Fodor's Pacific Northwest.

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