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Indy International Marketplace- “the world comes to eat”?

It was a Thursday afternoon at Village Restaurant, a Pakistani restaurant at Lafayette Square. We were there having a class. It took me a while to find the place, because it was kind of isolated into the back yard of the square, on a seemingly obsolescent plaza. Walking into the restaurant, I was overwhelmed by the dimness and quietness. It looked like that they were under remodeling – no much decors were put up and the dining space were seemingly to be separated out with big  curtains on the sides. It was  almost 6:30 pm then, but there was no customer in the restaurant excep the group of students John Clark brought to class. It was not until around 7 pm did the owners of the restaurant came out to set up the large table for our group of almost 20 people. The large curtains were drawn up, when you found out a larger hidden dining area behind for groups.

village1There are 3 servers (assume that owner, cooker, server can all help to serve) that evening and they are very hospitable- us as the only customer might be the reason. The Pakistan food here is not that much different from traditional Indian food, but with much fewer option. You could  find salads, Spinach pakora (deep-fried appetizers), chana masala (chickpeas in sauce) and vege fried rice for vegetarian options; lamb/ goat in sauce, Tandoori chicken wings, chiken chilli and biryani (seasoned rice with meat) for carnivores. Naan flat bread and dessert Kier were available, and raita (yogurt sauce) along with tamarind or mint chutney as dips. The dinner cost me around $16 in total. For me,it is far from a favorable price compared to the lunch option in other Indian restaurants with more option and better dinning environment, such as Delhi Palace and Indian Palace.

Seen from every aspect, this place is not that charming to me at all. It was not until few weeks later when I started to write this review did I find that I was not the only person rating Village Restaurant low (not for its food). “Dining out is not just about the food. It’s mostly about the food but convenience and ambiance and service does play apart in it and this place was lacking”, one of the reviewers wrote like this. “I was shocked we were the only customers for dinner buffet. The food was delicious fresh and hot just the way i like my food. But their location is bad. It is hidden I guess people don’t know about it” , another got the same feeling of its remote position as I did. (http://www.yelp.com/biz/village-restaurant-indianapolishttp://www.yelp.com/biz/village-restaurant-indianapolis)

village2Looking at this, I could not help asking the questions: what was the “ruins” here? why was so underdeveloped place used as an important channel to promote international food culture?  why does those restaurant owners agree to join this location?  This made me start to think more about it and look into the back of the restaurant and the nicely named place-International Marketplace at Lafayette square.

I found that the International Market place was formally known as the Lafayette Square Mall. Lafayette Square Mall was before a super-regional shopping mall developed in 1968 and opened in that April as the first enclosed shopping mall with over 1,000,000 square feet retail space in greater Indianapolis. At first, five anchors stores (JC Penney, Sears, G.C. Murphy, Kroger, William H. Block) were built and in the coming years it enjoyed rapid development and expansion, adding in tens of new big stores. The success has even prompted DeBartolo, who owned the Lafayette Square mall, to plan two additional malls on opposite sides of town, the Castleton Square on northeast side of Indianapolis and Washington Square Mall on the east side- both were opened in 1974. It was not until 1995 when the Circle Centre was opened and many more competitors came into being, it began its downturn path, with its first step of  remodeling the aging space. In the following years, it went through several remodels under the “shut-down” trend of its first-tier businesses. By November 2012, as the last remaining original tenant, GNC nutrition, closed, there remained only vacancies filled with thir-tier businesses and more urban-wear stores. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lafayette_Square_Mall) Ever since, it has never been a charming place to explore. Since Dec. 2011, the  Square, as deserted as it is, has even seen several shooting crimes. (http://www.indystar.com/article/20130104/NEWS02/130104024/Shots-fired-Lafayette-Square-Mall-Friday-no-injuries)  (http://www.indystar.com/article/20130314/NEWS02/303140027/IMPD-report-identifies-Lafayette-Square-Mall-shooting-victim)  (http://www.indystar.com/article/20130404/NEWS/304040102/2-people-shot-near-Lafayette-Square-Mall-police-say)

village3So, what is the first reason that attracted  those multicultural restaurants to come and finally turned it into an International Marketplace?  I didn’t find any records about when and how this transition happened. I believe some of the restaurant owners did make a good profit out of it which made their life as immigrants much easier; but some might have no choice. At the same time, I was wondering about the capability of those people making use of  those buzz words ofI believe, FF“international”, “global” and “multicultural” to attract local Hoosiers and try to revive the Square. As some more restaurants closed in 2012 (http://www.wthr.com/story/18741838/developers-eye-lafayette-square-as-restaurant-closes), the question came that whether it was  a common goal among immigrants, the property developer and especially local citizens to make Indianapolis a more globalized city? or each looking for something else.

Looking at the  marketing words on its website “this area, formally known for the Lafayette Square Mall (the first enclosed mall in Indianapolis), has become a vibrant diverse community. We now lay claim to the best international restaurants and businesses in Indianapolis and the world is taking notice. Our area has been recognized by the New York Times as being a place where ‘the world comes to eat’” , I could not feel any  happiness or pride of it. What I saw is the hard life some immigrants were having here.

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