The first time I took my daughters to India Fest they both became fascinated by an animated vendor selling something called "spicy Indian buttermilk." Although the drink is popular in South India, it didn't seem to be going over big in Memphis, and even the vendor's extreme enthusiasm failed to draw a crowd. "Try spicy Indian buttermilk, and prove you are among the wisest of the wise," he would say, and people would practically run in the other direction. Had the poor man listed his product's ingredients, they might have run even faster, since, in addition to ginger, cilantro, curry leaves, black mustard seeds, lemon juice, and hot peppers, this buttermilk also contains a foul-smelling ingredient called asafoetida, which is sometimes called "the food of the gods," but more often referred to as "the devil's dung."
Undaunted by the asafoetida (which loses its stinky edge when cooked and tastes a little bit like leeks), the girls decided they had to try this spicy buttermilk, if only to tell their friends how gross it was. It was delicious, refreshing, and a perfect match for all the biryanis, kormas, and vindaloos we sampled. The vendor complimented our intelligence in choosing such a magnificent beverage, to which he ascribed nearly magical qualities. The girls returned for seconds and thirds, and still complain regularly that nobody in town makes it on a regular basis. Now it's the main reason why we visit India Fest annually.
India Fest is an enormous event, attracting up to 10,000 visitors. In addition to an astonishing, mouthwatering array of curries, masalas, and tandoori dishes, vendors also sell clothing and jewelry while dancers and musicians compete for top honors on the main stage. There are cooking demonstrations, Bollywood film screenings, henna artists applying intricate temporary tattoos, and much more. This year's theme is "Weddings of India," which means there will also be extraordinary examples of traditional wedding apparel and decor. And if you're truly among the wisest of the wise, you'll seek out an excitable man with a pot full of spicy buttermilk. You won't be sorry.