The only perennial season in India is marriages. And perhaps, to an extent, controversies. Looked closely, the two do share some common attributes but let’s leave that for another day another column. If it isn’t the beef ban, it’s probably some landlord in Mumbai putting up a classified for a vegetarian onion-free family to move into his shanty apartment, the one he doesn’t live within miles of anyway. Or else, it is some dry day in the capital for an obscure reason which only gets (infamously) noticed because it keeps us away from our alcohol. And then let’s not forget that famous festival of nine days which hits the F&B establishments so bad that they are compelled to change menus and lock away the alcohol cabinet. Luckily for some, it’s only an affliction in parts and saner quarters continue to lead normal lives.
But then, once those days are over and the winter chill is just beginning to brace the early mornings and the late evenings of the capital, people know it is time to party. And how! The food festival is not a single-day celebration but an entire season, if it can be called such, and it begins sometime now and lingers on for as long as the weather allows. That and our annual Diwali bonuses. The idea of a food festival is to celebrate food. Pretty logical really, wouldn’t make sense if a food fest was about stand-up comedy. But that said, a food fest has to go beyond the expected offering of good grub and find ways to entertain and enthral the teeming crowds. Here are a few ideas that I have found work, some that are already a part of the Indian food fest diaspora, some that could do well to be incorporated.
1. Stand-up Comedy: If I were live on stage then this is where the drummer would have given me a ‘ba-dum-tish’ kind of joke climax roll. But it works. You come for the food, stay for the laughs. It’s hearty bonhomie all around. It’s better than trying to blend in a rock concert, which requires both hands and head to rock and bob appropriately.
2. Music: Yes, I am on a bit of a self-contradictory roll here. But when I say music, I mean the kind that fills the background drowning away the sea of horn-clanking vehicular contraptions that are stalled outside the venue, either trying to get in, or get out, or being confused about it since they’ve been stuck so long in the inexplicable traffic jam. So, no rock concerts please, but something that will make for foot-tapping nostalgic memories.
3. Competitions: I don’t mean beer pong but something that involves a superlative of sorts: spiciest vindaloo, fastest burger chomp-down, most prawns eaten in a minute—something that’s a wasteful degenerate import from the West and yet sensible enough to not gross out families with kids.
4. Food Trucks: If there’s one thing we like more than food stalls at a fest from famous restaurants, it’s food trucks. Food trucks are what pop-ups were two years ago. A few people recognise this need of ours to see food on motored wheels and have modelled something out of their old vans to resemble a kitchen on wheels. The food may not be great but is good in a grubby/hearty manner. More pertinently, the attraction and aspiration quotients are priceless, especially for the midlife challenged: at one point everyone wanted to retire to a private cosy little vineyard, or open a horse-breeding farm. Today, it’s running a food truck.
5. Education: Ever since the world got introduced to dirty words like ‘organic’, ‘food miles’ and ‘fairtrade’, it seems consumers just can’t get enough of it. Forget diamonds, people want to know that their potatoes are not (blood) stained. OK, that may be a bit of a leap but you get the point. It would be great if food festivals became a venue for picking up dope on what we eat: provenance, usage, even calories, all these are information that have practical everyday application. Chefs can go a step ahead and even do live demos—without going all Masterchef on us—and bring us up to speed. Idea is to inform and create awareness. Remember the time when asparagus and artichoke were exotic imports from your air-conditioned veggie shop? See what happened to them once food fest-goers discovered them!