Resisting the allure of Lindsay Ex candy floss and corn dogs, no fewer than 120 gathered in the St. Paul’s Anglican Church hall for “A Taste of India,” an opportunity for East and West to come together and break bread — well, chapati (a flatbread).
For many of those attending, it was a taste of the homes they’d left behind less than a month earlier for studies at Fleming College’s Frost Campus.
The event was organized by the church’s Youth Leader, Dan Farmer, and his mother, Pam and the purpose, as Farmer explained, was to welcome newcomers to their new community.
“With a growing number of international students and Indian families here in Lindsay we were looking for a way to reach out to them and forge connections.”
For his mother, it was the thought of students far from their homes that stirred her to action. She had vivid memories of Dan heading off to Newfoundland to study music at Memorial University, and remembered how grateful she’d been to a church in St. John’s that had provided a warm welcome and helped integrate him into that community.
“Some of these kids are on their own for the first time,” she noted. “They can’t head home for the weekend.”
Goldwin Chandra Isaac NJ, an Indian-Canadian member of the St. Paul’s congregation for the past five years, and Vani Parbhakar, the Farmers’ tenant and one of those recently-arrived students, assisted with menu-planning and shopping assistance. (Vani also assisted by getting the word out to her peers).
By 6 pm, the start time for the event, ingredients had been assembled. Under the friendly and tactful guidance of the more experienced (which is to say Indian), the less experienced (non-Indian) pitched in to assist with prepping: peeling and chopping potatoes, dividing cauliflower into florets, chopping tomatoes, dicing onion, mincing ginger, and rolling out whole-wheat chapatis.
All this was very familiar for those who’d grown up in the culture; a learning experience for some westerners. (Who knew the way to remove pomegranate seeds without leaving a puddle of juice, was to carefully score the skin, pull the fruit apart in the hand, then tap with a wooden spoon?)
At the stoves, griddles, and deep-fryer skilled Eastern hands prepared the dishes. South Indian curd rice, Aloo Ki Sabzi (a potato curry enlivened with cumin, turmeric, coriander, and other spices), and paneer butter masala (cottage cheese in a gravy of tomato and onion seasoned with chili, garlic and ginger) bubbled away in pots. Bite-sized Pakoras — deep-fried cauliflower florets in a chickpea batter — were heaped into bowls.
As the meal was being readied and upbeat Indian music played, everyone mingled — young and old; Sikh, Hindu, Christian, and other; new students and graduates; lifelong Lindsay residents and newcomers. At one table sat Simar, Priya, Ashrima, and Isobeau from Mickael’s Bakery along with their friends.
Among the overheard conversations: Some newcomers discussing the best sources of ingredients for Indian food in town (Food Basics, the Bulk Barn, and Loblaws); sharing of first impressions of the weather (“Does it really get as cold as they say it will?”) and of the town (“Beautiful! Quiet!”); Observations (“Not many people are out on the streets — most people drive everywhere”).
Also overheard: Pam Farmer (who greeted all who arrived) in conversation with three young bearded and turbaned Sikhs, delivering a motherly admonishment: “If you’re out walking and you see me you have to come over and chat.”
Reactions to the gathering were uniformly positive. A number commented to Pam and Vani that they’d been feeling homesick and appreciated a chance to meet others and experience familiar foods. And the response of those new to Indian cuisine? Favourable for sure: Vani was asked to pack up some leftovers by someone from Fenelon Falls who wanted her parents to experience Indian cuisine.
With numbers of international students registered at Frost campus having grown from just 35 in 2015 to 332 (300 of those from India) and with the enthusiastic response to this first event it was clear to the organizers that this should be a monthly gathering.
The next “Taste of India” is scheduled for Saturday, October 5 at St. Paul’s and will run from 6-9 pm, with the meal preparation beginning at 3 pm. All are welcome.
No tickets or payment is required. Donations are accepted (there was a jar at the first event), but they are not expected. The Farmers recognize that students don’t always have much disposable income and don’t want any barriers to participation.
Someone you’re sure to see at the next Taste of India? Warren Leibovitch, the minister at St. Paul’s. Without Warren’s support and approval the events wouldn’t be happening and he’d badly wanted to be at the first one. It was only a commitment to help at the church’s LEX fair food booth that had kept him away.