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Festive Food in Richmond Hill

The crowds, and the chow, can be equally colorful

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Little Guyana Bake Shop

Little Guyana Bake Shop on Liberty Avenue

Photo (c) Dave Cook of Eating in Translation
For the Indo-Caribbean residents of Richmond Hill, the annual Phagwah Parade, part of the Hindu celebration known as Holi in India, is a colorful occasion to celebrate spring. Literally: Amid the typical procession of parade floats and thumping music, revelers welcome the warmer weather by dousing one another with brightly dyed liquids and powders. (Though the authorities do their best to restrict this playful practice to Smokey Oval Park, at the end of the parade route, onlookers might be wise to wear older clothes.)

For visitors to this Queens neighborhood, the Phagwah Parade also offers occasion to try some fascinating food from Guyana — the homeland of many parade participants — as well as Trinidad, Jamaica, and elsewhere in the West Indies. Riding the A train to the Lefferts Blvd./Ozone Park terminal (and not along the branch that heads to JFK and Rockaway Beach) will put you on Liberty Avenue, the center of Richmond Hill's Caribbean community.

Guyanese Chow in Richmond Hill

The parade route begins near 134th Street, about a 15-minute walk east along the avenue. If you arrive early, and especially if you're meeting up with friends, Singh's (131-18 Liberty Ave, Richmond Hill, NY, 718-323-5990) offers plenty of seats for a rendezvous. The servers at the cafeteria-style counter are very accommodating with first-timers and will adjust the spice levels as you please -- say, in a generous plateful of curry fish or stewed pork. (You'll also spot Chinese noodles and fried rice, first brought to Guyana in the 19th century by indentured laborers.)

Wash down your meal with sorrel, a deep red, slightly tart soft drink made from hibiscus flowers, or perhaps sea moss, a sweeter, richer, almost creamy Jamaican favorite that tastes wonderful for something made from seaweed.

Across the avenue, the flagship location of Sybil's (132-17 Liberty Ave, Richmond Hill, NY, 718-835-9235) does a volume business in many of the same items, but it's mainly a takeout operation.

Rotis and Doubles in Richmond Hill

If you'd prefer to let the parade participants do all the marching, you'll find lots of chow not far from the Lefferts Avenue station (including, unavoidably, some well-known chains). The parade takes a right-hand turn from Liberty Avenue onto 123rd Street, and it's near this corner that you can expect the most crowded locations for viewing and noshing. Sandy's Roti (121-10 Liberty Ave, Richmond Hill, NY, 718-659-8000) and Anil's Roti (121-10 Liberty Ave, Richmond Hill, NY, 718-845-2800) are two places to score the namesake Indian flatbread, generally served with a curry. For more of a nibble, try a double — curried chick peas pinned (but just barely) between two layers of fluffy golden fried dough.

If you'd like to snack now and find something to take away for later, try the Little Guyana Bake Shop (124-13 Liberty Ave, Richmond Hill, NY, 718-843-4200; also at 116-44 Liberty Ave). I'm fond of their soft, sugar-sprinkled tamarind balls (if only they were spicier!) You'll also find jars of chutney, and related bright-colored condiments labeled achar and hot chow, that will put your "spicy" mustard and hot dog relish to shame.

More Delights in Richmond Hill and Ozone Park

If you follow the parade up 123rd Street and right on 95th Avenue to Smokey Oval Park, there's little that awaits you but the aforementioned dye job. If you'd rather spend your money on food than laundry, walk west on Liberty under the elevated tracks, where Richmond Hill morphs into Ozone Park. You'll continue to see noteworthy Caribbean destinations like snacker's oasis Trini Delite (as in "Trinidad"; 110-02 Liberty Ave, Richmond Hill, NY, 718-322-1203) and Windies (as in "West Indies"; 105-05 Liberty Ave, Ozone Park, NY, 718-322-3223), home to what may be the neighborhood's fluffiest rotis.

But you can also polish off the afternoon Italian style with turnovers and cookies from Greenwood Quality Bakery (111-02 Liberty Ave, Richmond Hill, NY, 718-843-4828), donuts and crumb cake from Oxford Bake Shop (104-01 Liberty Ave, Ozone Park, NY, 718-843-4039), or even a superb slice of Sicilian from Ozone Pizza (96-15 Liberty Ave, Ozone Park, NY, 718-845-9555). Each sits by a station where the A train can carry you home.

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