Places that Matter

Shaheen's Foods and Sweets

Indian and Pakistani sweet shop
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Before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1949, Abdul Hamid ran a roadside sweet stand in the town of Qudian, India. In the years that followed, he opened a pharmacy. In 1968, he fled to America to escape religious persecution against his Muslim sect, and his family followed shortly thereafter. While working in Queens as a security guard, Abdul Hamid remembered that he knew how to make Indian sweets, and he and his wife began to make sugary confections at home for local parties and shops. His son Tariq Hamid, who now runs the business, recalls coming home from school to the hubbub of sweet-making in the family kitchen.

When Shaheen Sweets opened in 1973, it was the first Indian and Pakistani sweet shop in New York, and, along with an appliance store and a sari shop, one of the first South Asian businesses in what is now a thriving South Asian community in Jackson Heights. The confections at Shaheen Sweets are not only sweet to the palate, but lovely to look at. Candies like the orange, pretzel-shaped jalabee, and the fudge made from sweetened fried milk, called burfee, require skill to perfect.

Tariq dates his firm's sweet-making traditions back several centuries to the Mogul empire. In South Asian culture, sweets play a starring role in family events, such as the birth of a child or a wedding, as well as in cultural and religious celebrations. For Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights--when families and friends traditionally exchange sweets. Shaheen ships its confections all over the world. The shop is also a community center, where often the poor are fed and marriages arranged. Tariq Hamid believes passionately in diversity, and he works to support it in his neighborhood and city. Shaheen Foods and Sweets celebrates the October Hindu holidays of Diwali and the Muslim holidays of Eid.