Indian food at the Regatta

If you’re heading to this year’s Regatta, Andreae Prozesky will meet you at the Indian food stand for a puri. 

It’s Wednesday. It’s hot. It’s Regatta day.

Amid the click-click of raffle wheels and the stinging sweetness of cotton candy at North America’s famed longest-running sporting event, where things are just about as “traditional Newfoundland” as you can get, there comes a vague smell of… curry?

For almost 20 years now, members of the St. John’s Hindu Temple have been bringing their selection of meatless Indian dishes to the public.

“We wanted to popularise Indian food, to let people know more about it,” says Temple chair Dr. Veeresh Gadag. And for many folks in this city, the Temple’s presence at the Lake has been their first contact with Indian cooking.

In the 1980s St. John’s was a different place, a more gastronomically conservative one than it is now. Tastes in Regatta snacks didn’t stray far from the predictability of hot dogs and fries. But the Hindu community’s culinary offerings were accepted, deemed delicious, and became a mainstay (for some of us, the highlight) of the festivities.

As a kid in St. John’s I wasn’t entirely interested in the Indian food stand, I’ll admit. Fries were just fine by me. But eventually I became a righteous teenage vegetarian, and I felt somehow vindicated that I could find something that suited my sensibilities, and that would show off to my friends how very cosmopolitan I (thought I) was.

Local opinion is that the Regatta is where you’ll get the best and cheapest Indian food all year. The shores of Quidi Vidi and the paper plates may not provide the ambiance such a high quality meal deserves, but the food is eaten with a great measure of appreciation.

The menu offered by the Temple members is entirely vegetarian, and includes walking-around-and-munching foods, like samosas (deep-fried pastries filled with potatoes and vegetables) and puri (fried bread), as well as plunking-down-on-the-grass selections, such as pilau (a fragrant rice dish) and potato sabji (spiced potatoes). This year, the cooks are adding flavourful curried chickpeas (channa) to the menu, too.

In the early days, almost all of the food was prepared on-site at Quidi Vidi Lake. Today the Temple boasts an “excellent kitchen,” and most of the food can be prepared ahead of time and transported to the Regatta.

The puri, however, must be made right then and there: the little breads are deep fried, then handed to customers still hot and glistening gold. The samosas are prepared in stages and frozen, starting as early as June. Preparing samosas from scratch is a lengthy process. But many hands make light work. This year about 70 people will devote their time to the preparation and serving. I asked Dr. Gadag if it was difficult to round up this many cooks. Not at all, he replied. The Hindu community is eager to share its food with the rest of St. John’s.

A remarkable number of people sampled the Indian delights at last year’s Regatta – at least a couple thousand, according to Dr. Gadag.

“We make 2200 samosas, 1200 puris. We’re cooking 400 pounds of potatoes,” says Dr. Gadag. All this for a one-day, once-a-year event!

If the very thought of eating delicious channa and puri in the open air on a summer’s day weren’t enough, consider the prices: $3 for a generous serving of any one item, or $10 for a plate, which includes three selections and a drink. And remember: spicy foods, contrary to what popular belief, actually cool a person down. The same cannot be said of a bag of fries.

The line-ups will be long, the kids will be sugared-up, and the crowds will be Regatta-mad, but the food will be fabulous.

– Andreae Prozesky

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