The aroma of crisp, warm samosas wafted into the air as hungry, nostalgic college students entered a temporary canopy of comfort. The humble seating, familiar art on the cream coloured walls and peppy Bollywood music in the background rolled over a wave of solace as the students gobbled up their homesickness.
Sangam, one of the very few Indian restaurants in Ithaca, arguably provides the most authentic Indian food in town. Located in downtown Ithaca, the restaurant possesses an extensive menu that is pocket friendly for college students and has a good portion size as well. While the spice level can be adjusted, the food here isn’t “Americanised” to appeal to the tastebuds of all and even allows locals to realistically explore original Indian cuisine.
To the hundreds of Indian international students who come to Ithaca every year, Sangam is more than just a food joint. It is a place that provides a strong sense of community in a new land.
When most international students read the term ‘non-resident alien’ on their official documents, they are reminded of all that they’ve left behind – and that feeling isn’t great. It constantly reminds them of the fact that they are outsiders in this country. However, through its food, Sangam contributes towards erasing this sense of being alien, alone and away.
The people who come to eat at Sangam may or may not strike up a conversation or immediately bond over things back home. Yet, being surrounded by strangers who have all left a piece of their home behind doesn’t really make them strangers, does it?
Transitioning to a college halfway across the globe is a commitment that these students choose to make, but it is a big change nonetheless. Ithaca College Freshman, Baneet Pukhrambam, recalled the sense of familiarity that he experienced when he first visited Sangam.
“If you look at the menu, it’s things that you know, that you have been eating since you were a kid,” Pukhrambam said. “So it’s a sense of familiarity, and you know what you’re going to get, and you know, it makes you feel comfortable.”
IC Sophomore Surya Sharma seemed happy that she stood corrected about Sangam not being authentic enough. She recalled sipping a warm cup of chai as she sat next to a window, enjoying the time that she spent there.
“When I first tried Indian food here, I was convinced that it won’t be as ‘desi’ as one would expect, but it turns out that the food is very homely.” Sharma said. “Sangam potentially fills the void that every Indian has in their hearts by serving us authentic Chai and other Indian cuisines.”
I personally went there at a time when I was overwhelmed. I was still figuring the TCAT out, learning that I had to travel down an entire hill to get groceries and adjusting to the food campus. At a time like that, Sangam provided me with the perfect comfort food. While leaving the restaurant, the owner approached me after seeing my “Ithaca College Fall ‘22 Orientation” bag. Probably having met multiple students during orientation week, she came up to me and said that if I ever need anything during an emergency, I shouldn’t hesitate to contact them.
Even if it was out of sheer courtesy, to know that someone has your back, especially when you’re thousands of miles away from home is relieving.
While everyone has their own comfort dish, Pukhrambam recommends trying the Aloo Paratha (potato–stuffed flatbread) to anyone visiting Sangam for the first time.
“So I’ve only been there once, but I do remember that I tried the Aloo Paratha there,” Pukhrambam said while breaking into a passionate chef’s kiss. “And that was phenomenal. Why? Because it was spicy. And the circumference of the Paratha was crispy and red,I would recommend it one hundred percent.”
For Sharma, samosas are a favorite because they remind her of home.
“They have always been a staple food in my home, so it’s always comforting to eat or have something around that you grew up with.” said Sharma.
For me, Chicken Biryani, Chicken Naan and the Fish Pakoras are personal favorites. If you’re in the mood to order in, go with the Biryani. But if you are headed downtown, try the Fish Pakoras and the Chicken Naan, which taste best served immediately. The two might get soggy or hard to chew if you get them delivered.
Whether you decide to physically visit Sangam or get your food delivered, don’t forget to tip. Not only because it is good to do so, but also because the people at Sangam will call you out if you don’t (rightly so!).
The word “sangam” refers to the confluence of India’s two holy rivers Ganga and Jamuna. True to its name, Sangam is not just a place where these rivers merge and rejoin, but a place where students reconnect with their culture and heritage.
Prakriti Panwar is a first-year Journalism major who always knows the best places to eat around town. They can be reached at [email protected].