Dosa bowls visitors over at the Silicon Valley ‘India Food Festival’

Ritu Jha-

Seven-year-old Rhea Bharadwaj was standing in a queue waiting to get a dosa with her sister. Her parents say she would choose a dosa over a burger any time. The credit goes to her father who, during the pandemic, innovated varieties of dosa when restaurants were closed.

Rhea Bharadwaj waiting to get a dosa at the India Food Festival, held March 16.

Rhea Bharadwaj told indica she likes the avocado and chocolate dosa her dad makes and was enjoying the India Food Festival, held Mar 16 as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, celebrating 75 years of India’s independence. The festival was hosted jointly by India’s consulate in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley-based Shastha Foods.

“I like Mani uncle’s dosa batter,” the little girl said, referring to Mani Krishnan, owner of Shastha Foods, who offers ready-to-cook-and-eat products.

India’s Consul General TV Nagendra Prasad emphasized Indo-US relations and the significance of the rich diversity of food from India. He also mentioned the upcoming International Year of Millets 2023.

About 200 people attended the food celebration, Mani Krishnan told indica. He added that the unique part was that it had happened for the first time in his 40 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thanking the San Francisco consulate, Krishnan, who was pleased to host the festival, said, “The local diaspora has come to the event, which will set the trend for food business in the coming decade in the U.S.

“The consulate was kind enough and I am thankful I had the ability, intention, resources and time to do it.  It was done collectively and that made a difference for the Indian diaspora.”

The food festival was attended not just by members of the Indian community, but also by staff from various consulates.

Padmavathi Prasad, wife of the Indian consul general, was the chief guest. Talking to indica, she sounded pleased to see the vibrant Indian American community after the pandemic and said that when she arrived a year ago, there were hardly any people to be seen in the streets. “I am happy to see a lot of smiling faces,” she said. “People were earlier lonely due to the pandemic.”

About the festival, she said, “We should promote Indian food. It’s the main part of our culture.”

She said she had visited the venue before the event began and was amazed to see how different batters and foods are prepared. She thanked Mani Krishnan for agreeing to host the event.

“I keep admiring [Indian American] achievements and they are in each field, you name it,” she said.

“The generation that came here 40 or 50 years ago, their hearts are still in India,” she continued, “but I am concerned about the younger generation. I want them to be in touch with the country. It is important for the country. They should not learn about India through Google. I would like them to travel to India, visit as many places as possible, meet various people and learn for themselves.

“If you connect the dots, you have lots of opportunities within India as well,” she said, adding that food is one way to connect.

Michelin star chef Srijith Gopinathan, owner of the Ettan restaurant in Palo Alto, echoed Padmavathi and said it was important to celebrate Indian culture and promote Indian food. There is so much left to showcase in this area, he said.

“I think we are in the right place at the right time,” Srijith Gopinathan said. “That was missing earlier and there is a market. Indian cuisine is what made me. So, I have to give it back.”

Asked what comes to mind the most when he thinks Indian food, Gopinathan said, “I think we pretty much are in advanced times when it comes to Indian food. Probably 15 years ago it was difficult, but now it’s not that hard. It’s just about educating people.”

Indian food is no more a foreign experience for Californians. Many enjoy it. Most important is to be a missionary and teach people what [Indian food] is, he said. It will take a little time, but it’s not hard.

Kathleen Kimura(Right)) with attendees from various consulates.

Alessandra Gaadaguali from Italy’s consulate in San Francisco told indica she loved the spicy dosa. “It is so good,” she exclaimed.

Gaadaguali said the foods on offer did not resonate with any Italian food she was used to, and she was trying these dishes for the first time, but “the dosa taste, it’s impressive”. In Vancouver, Canada, she had had some Indian chicken items, but not dosa.

Ota Prasetyo representing Consul General of the Republic of Indonesia in San Francisco said Indonesian cuisine uses similar spices. “It’s a little spicy and we enjoy this.”

Katheleen Kimura, from the United Kingdom and working with the spouses of the San Francisco consulates as a volunteer, told indica her husband is from Japan and they were invited to the festival and it was wonderful. “Indian food is not new, but dosa is new [for me] and I am looking forward to buying dosa batter.”

Krishnan in his speech shared how he went from being an accountant in 1977, when he came to the U.S., to a computer exporter and eventually ventured into Shastha Foods in 2003 by accident. Since then, he claimed, Shastha Foods had sold over 100 million dosa by 2017 and an additional 50 million in the last five years.