Now in its 22nd year, India Fest will celebrate the prosperous exchange of Indian culture in our community with a free, full day of events at the Virginia Beach Convention Center on Saturday, Nov. 11. Organized by the Asian Indians of Hampton Roads (AIHR), India Fest will put on show the finest foods from local Indian restaurants, mesmerizing dances, an impressive collection of vendors and informative yoga demonstrations.
Up to 10 local Indian restaurants will provide exquisite servings of the different styles of regional Indian food, including Saffron Indian Bistro, Tamarind, Coastal Spice and Nanking of Virginia. “It’s a great opportunity for everyone to come and try different types of food,” shares Pradeep Patel, a member of the India Fest Food Committee. Visitors can also expect to be entertained with Bollywood dances, fusion dances and Indian traditional dance competitions, all while browsing setups from exotic jewelers and designer clothes merchants and more. AIHR’s NetCon, a local business-networking lounge, will also have its own designated space at India Fest that will be accessible for professionals who purchase a separate admission ticket.
“The proceeds from the event go to charity disaster relief and educational scholarships,” says Himangshu Dey, president of AIHR. This includes $5,000 each to hurricane disaster relief efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as funds for educational scholarships in Virginia Beach public schools.
Taking a preview of what’s to come at India Fest, Saffron Indian Bistro at Town Center is preparing some delightful dishes with a cultural fusion of regional flavors, gathering appeal in their meals by cooking with the spices of life. “We try to pick the best items from each region from India,” explains Darshak Patel, owner of Saffron. “Every region has their own taste and every region has their own way to cook, and their own spices too.” While the menu selection deviates from cooking practices adhering to one specific region, there’s still a pronounced belief in making cuisine that’s authentic to India. This candid culinary dedication begins with where Saffron sources its ingredients. “All of our spices come from India,” ensures Darshak.
Starting with a helping of tandoor bread, the bistro’s garlic naan is spruced with cilantro and herbs, tasting both savory and wholesome, and provides good accompaniment with apéritifs before main courses. Saffron’s naan is charred until it’s crispy on the walls within its own stainless steel tandoor oven at 500 hundred degrees Fahrenheit.
Whetting the appetite for more, a warm platter of one of the restaurant’s regional curries, tikka masala, is served both with tofu and chicken (among the many other protein selections) with tomatoes, peppers and fenugreek in a creamy orange curry sauce. It’s a splendid and nourishing entrée, both sweet and spicy, and palatable as it's not overbearing with heat.
Finishing things off with dessert, a spoonful of kheer Indian rice pudding made with cardamom, nuts and raisins is a sweet and smooth exclamation to a dynamic blend of foods made with sensational spices and herbs.
Darshak indicates that these courses made with a complex and precise mixture of ingredients isn’t simply fortuitous, as he asserts, “it’s not easy…not everybody can do it. You need highly skilled chefs.” Saffron’s executive chef has nearly 30 years of experience, and many of the varied regional recipes come from the chefs' families. With a look into Saffron’s kitchen, Darshak is far from bashful when sharing a bold display of spices and herbs used in their cooking. He presents a sampling of his selection, from cumin to mustard seeds, turmeric, saffron, red chili powder, cloves and so on. Cooking oil plays just as important of a part in the different dialects of regional flavors as well. “If you go to the northern region of India, they might use mustard oil. If you go to the southern region of India, they will use coconut oil.” It’s all a matter of cultural resources.
Saffron Indian Bistro and other local Indian restaurants will be serving regional, fusion and street foods at India Fest, Saturday, Nov. 11, from 11 a.m.–7 p.m. at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Visit AIHR.org for more information.