Ever heard of a little something called “Mulligatawny”? In case you haven’t, it’s a a spicy Anglo Indian soup made with red lentils, vegetables and chicken. Nothing foreign about red lentils, vegetables or chicken, is there? And yet, most of us would think of it as something exotic and even have a hard time relating it with food.
On Sunday, the West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation along with the city will host the inaugural Berkeley International Food Festival to celebrate diversity in the city.
As Michael Caplan, assistant to the city manager and festival liaison, said, “The idea behind the food fest was to highlight the uniqueness of West Berkeley. It’s the mecca for world cuisine and we want people to know that.”
Coplan said the idea for the event originated almost three years ago when West Berkeley was being cleaned up.
“We realized that it was the gateway to the City of Berkeley, given that the I-80 is so close. So we thought why not give the place the importance it deserved?” he said. “No other place has such high a concentration of Indian, Fijian, Filipino, Spanish, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Lebanese, Jamaican, and so many more ethnicities in one place.”
Coplan also told The Planet that the city plans to address the lighting and parking problems on San Pablo Avenue in the near future through the San Pablo improvement plan which involved AC Transit working with the city to install more lights in the bus stops.
“The food festival will be a good way to raise awareness about the place,” he said.
“The neighborhood has a tremendous, tremendous amount of talent,” said Pam Weatherford, who was hired by the neighborhood group to organize and publicize the day. “It’s like a treasure-trove.”
Stores such as Milan, Bombay Spice, Halal Market, Spanish Table, Mi Tierra foods, Country Cheese and Middle East Market who sell specialty foods will be present at the festival along with restaurants such as Templebar Tiki Bar and Restaurant, Bosphorous, Siam Cuisine, Casa Latina and Rountrees.
Rosalyn Loong, co-owner of Templebar, which survived the San Francisco fire in 1906 and moved to Berkeley in 1992, will be serving Hawaiian barbeque on Sunday.
“We are thrilled to be a part of the festival. It’s the first of its kind in Berkeley and we hope it’s a grand success,” she said.
Maulin Chokshi, owner of Bombay Jewelry Company and President of Universty Avenue Merchants Association describes the festival as an excellent way for merchants to interact with the community.
“We are definitely involved and would help in every way to make it a success,” he said.
On Sunday, a promenade area running two blocks in each direction from the intersection of University and San Pablo Avenues will host restaurant specials, cooking demonstrations, and exciting samplings from noon to 5 p.m.
The Cal Cooking Club will be present at the Spanish Table to give cooking demonstrations.
“We will be showing how to cook Paella, a traditional Spanish rice dish made with seafood and meat. It will be accompanied by some guitar music,” said Adam Reich, Cal Cooking Club Vice President.
There will also be music and dance.
Khalil Shaheed’s Mo’Rocking Project will offer a mix of jazz and traditional Morrocan music while the David Thom Band will be performing its own brand of hard-driving California Bluegrass.
The Templebar’s Royal Hawaiian Ukele Band will also be stopping by and West Berkeley’s very own Irene Sazer will be present with the School of String Improvisation to synthesize jazz, classical, and pop music.
Freight and Salvage will be hosting Los Cenzontles, the internationally renowned performing and recording group from the Mexican Art Center in San Pablo while Sekar Jaya, the Bay Area Balinese arts ensemble, famed as the best gamelan orchestra and dancers outside of Indonesia, will also perform that afternoon.
A fashion show showcasing the latest in international wear will be carried out to classical tabla and sitar music performed by South Asian group Dhamaal.
Speaking to the Planet, Bruce Williams, Vice Chair of WBNDC said that one of the main reasons for the fesival was that the city needed to galvanize the area in some way.
“It’s an economic development plan disguised as a festival,” he said. “But we also want people to come and discover for themselves the uniqueness of the different regions. Again, you would be surprised to find how food from different countries can have similar uses.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase different talents and communities. I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore. “We hope we will be able to make it into an annual event.”
Photograph by Stephan Babuljak
“Uncle Kem” Kanikapila Loong, left, and Dean “Dino” Morrow, demonstrate some ukulele playing at Loong’s restaurant Temple Bar Wednesday in preparation for the International Food Festival this weekend in Berkeley.