Diwali Fest, an annual South Asian arts and culture festival, is celebrating its 12th year in Vancouver. Diwali, meaning “row of lighted lamps,” is a Hindu tradition undertaken by many throughout the world and signifies the spirit’s triumph of light over darkness.
Diwali Fest Co-Producer Rohit Chokhani explains.
“Our society is driven to build bridges between communities to promote intercultural understanding by exploring how traditional South Asian arts evolve into fusion forms in the context of new countries and contemporary values,” he says.
Spicing up the festival
The festival, which started as a one-day volunteer-led event in Vancouver, has grown into a two-week professionally staffed event spanning Vancouver, Surrey and Richmond. The festival boasts a variety of events and activities, including cooking classes.
“Food is an essential part of the Diwali holiday. At Diwali Fest, we try to bring in food into everything that we do. We have food at our planning meetings, at our Volunteer orientations, events, workshops and various other programmed events. So like every year, we are inviting people to get into the Diwali spirit through exciting and tasty cooking demos…” Chokhani explains.
The classes, which take place in the Roundhouse Mews on Nov. 3, will showcase Raj Thandi from Pink Chai Living demonstrating a popular Indian recipe. The classes were featured on Breakfast Television last year, and have proven to be a big hit. The recipe for this year’s demo is yet to be determined. Thandi, an accomplished blogger who created Pink Chai Living has an authentic, North Indian style, and will most likely teach a seasonal vegetable dish.
When asked what types of spices are generally used, Chokhani elaborates.
“Indian cuisine is characterized by the extensive use of numerous spices. Spices, or Masala as it is called in Hindi, may be called the “heartbeat” of an Indian kitchen,” he says. “When I think about my childhood memories from my mom’s kitchen, I think of Indian household terms in Hindi such as Dhaniya, Jeera, Lavang, Mirchi, Namak, etc. I have never cared to think about their English translation because people around me refer to them in Hindi, even in Canada.”
Because Indian food is so diverse depending on the region, not everyone is acquainted with the Indian food served in restaurants in Vancouver.
“Being raised a vegetarian, I had never heard of certain dishes that you get served at an Indian restaurant in Vancouver before I immigrated here. […] I grew up in Mumbai and the food you get there is quite different from the food you will get in Southern India or Northern India, so it’s not hard to imagine what is offered as Indian food in Canada,” says Chokhani.
Not everything is different though. Chokhani mentions that certain basic elements of Indian cuisine, such as the common spices of coriander, cumin, turmeric, mustard seed, cinnamon, curry, tamarind and fenugreek, remain the same across the world.
When asked why they decided to have Diwali as the main focus of the event, Chokhani explains that Diwali was his favourite festival as a child, and he missed the Diwali celebrations from back home when he immigrated to Canada.
“It’s a time to unite with friends and family – it’s like Thanksgiving or Christmas in Western culture… So I felt the need to serve something bigger during the Diwali timeframe that would be a huge celebration for the masses, not just people from India,” he says.
Diwali Fest will take place from Nov. 3–15. For more information on events and times, please visit www.diwalifest.ca.