Last month I visited my first ever Indian food festival held in Martinsville, New Jersey! This annual food extravaganza, called the Varli Food Festival is named after Varli Singh, an entrepreneur who has made it a mission to raise awareness of Indian cuisines globally. She not only brings food fanatics and world re-known chefs together under one roof through these events, but also manages three distinct brands under the Varli name. One of which is an altruistic effort known as the Diya foundation for underprivileged children.
I have to say when I initially thought of a South Asian food festival I imagined samples from local restaurants with the same paneer tikka masala or even gobhi manchurian which I normally crave. I also pictured the familiar arrangement of tents in the style of a South Asian mela. However, as with several experiences I soon learned you can’t make judgement calls unless you actually attend the event.
My expectations were totally off-target. For one, the event was extremely well-organized with over 40 Indian restaurants and vendors present. The attendees were a mix of all ages and everyone seemed like a food connoisseur. There was a contagious excitement present in the air.
(Pictured above, a chef prepares fresh samples for attendees)
Each vendor introduced a creative spin on familiar restaurant flavors we know and love. For instance we’ve all heard of Nachos, but ever had a Naancho?
(above, a mouthwatering sample)
Achari Murgh Tikka anyone? (above)
(below) Or how about this spicy bhel mix served from a ferris wheel?
Also, if you do attend the Varli Food Festival chances are you will get to meet a celebrity chef. As someone who cooks less, but tends to watch cooking shows more I was pleased to have seen celebrity chef Sanjiv Kapoor. I spent several childhood years watching Zee TV’s Khana Khazana and now I was seeing the one and only Sanjiv Kapoor walk the red carpet.
(Spotted: Celebrity Chef Sanjiv Kapoor)
Additionally, for those who love aesthetics, well there was no shortage of colorful decorations at the event. While I browsed through the endless selections of samples, I also could not help but notice how with the decorations mimicked a full-fledged India feel.
Aside from the food and decorations, food fanatics who are also chefs back home, will appreciate Varli Singh’s display of ValiWare. VarliWare is a brand of innovative kitchen equipment that attendees can purchase after the event. The selection includes rolling pins, sauce pans, cutlery, and more!
Lastly, like any birthday party or function you’ve been to, would a goodbye be done without a goody bag? The surprise twist of this year’s Varli food festival was that all attendees could go grocery shopping with a single purchase of the event ticket. With a $45 dollar ticket you not only had endless samples to taste as well as wine, but also you could go home with a huge bag of Patel groceries. It was a humorous sight to see families standing in line in front of me wait impatiently to grab the miniature rice bags and pre-made rotis.
One attendee even expressed how thankful she was that she did not have to make rotis that night for her family dinner.
I truly recommend a visit to the Varli Food Festival next year in 2018, because I realized that such a rich attribute of South Asian culture is our creativity, especially with food. We are all attached to Brown cuisine and we know our regular favorites when we go to any South Asian restaurant. However, some times it is necessary to step out of our comfort zone and try some new fusions of flavors!
(above, an assortment of Indian spices by Kebob and Curry Restaurant)