Last weekend we took advantage of spring's first appearance and headed down to the South Bank to explore the Alchemy Festival. Alchemy is an annual celebration of all things India and on the bill was Indian entertainment, dance, music, fashion, film screenings and of course, food. My boyfriend and I are both India-lovers, yogis and self confessed foodies, so it was natural for us to both head to the 'Festival Village' - street food market full of Indian snack stands outside the Festival Hall.
Vegetarian Dosa - an English twist on a classic Indian dish
By the time we were arrived we were so hungry that we made for the first stall we could see. It was a 'vegetarian dosa' stand serving an English twist on the much-loved South Indian dosa, which is a large flat pancake made from rice batter and cooked on a hot plate. The pancake is then folded over and served with samba (a type of vegetable curry) and coconut chutney. The vegetarian dosa came with curried vegetables in the middle and was then folded over, fajita style. The addition of cheddar cheese (definitely not something you come across in India) gave it an English taste, which, although delicious, was not quite a dosa as we knew it.
Indian chutneys, just one of the many food stalls on offer at Alchemy Festival Village
We wandered around the food stores and were overwhelmed with the amount of choice on offer. From chaat (Indian snack stands), to curry, from Thali to chai - it was all there. Some stalls were obviously more popular than others, lined with enormous queues. We eventually opted for a main course of channa (chickpea) masala and vegetable biryani rice. However, we were a bit disappointed with the fact that the stall holder put it in the microwave to warm the dish up when we had passed so many other stalls with sizzling pans full of hot, freshly cooked food. No wonder there was no queue at this stall! Still, you live and learn. We reasoned that as the Festival Village continued through the month, we could go back to some of the better food stalls having sifted the wheat from the chaff.
We were disappointed that we didn't get a curry from one of these stalls where the food freshly bubbled in giant pans
The street market had been thoughtfully curated and there were several spots were punters could sit down and enjoy their afternoon 'tiffin' (which means 'lunch' or 'light meal' in Indian English). We managed to bag a seat in one of these areas and eat our microwaved curry. Whilst there we struck up a pleasant conversation with an Indo-American mother and daughter who were licking what looked like giant milk pops on sticks. They told us that it was kulfi, traditional Indian ice cream. This was a dish that I had not tried before, not even in all my months in India, and the ladies urged us to eat it as it freshly made, apparently a rare find.
We were impressed with the 'Peckish Peacock''s colourful stand
We went off in search of the kulfi and bagged a couple of sticks, which were pleasant and refreshing to enjoy in the afternoon sun. This attracted quite a lot of interest from passers by who all wanted to get a slice of the kulfi action, so we spread the love and showed them the way to the excellent food stand. We also bought some samosas from this same stand - one of the finest of Indian snacks and ate it the authentic way, served on a little paper plate with a side of green chutney.
Drawing envious glaces from passers-by as we ate our cool kulfi
We finished off our Indian feast with two cups of chai, an Indian tea blended with herbs and spices such as fresh ginger and cardamom and served milky sweet. The chai stall was offering traditional ceramic cups along with the chai which, as is done in India, you smash when you have finished your beverage. This is done for hygiene purposes (the clay is simply remade and the cycle begins again). There is something quite satisfying about finishing a cup and then smashing it on the ground. We couldn't quite bring ourselves to do this, however, and took the two little cups home for posterity (after enjoying a refill, which came included in the price).
The little ceramic cups of chai - after you drink you smash them on the floor