When Neelu Matai moved to Greenville in the early 1980s, she remembers feeling a little out of place in her new home. She was used to Kolkata, India, where she’d grown up, and London, where she’d attended university, large cities with diverse populations.
Greenville was small by comparison and far less diverse.
Today, Greenville is a vastly different city with people from many different countries who are influencing the city’s food and events and creating a broader culture.
This week marks India Day, an event put on by the India Association of Greenville to celebrate Indian culture and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Indian independence from the United Kingdom. After a hiatus for COVID, Matai and her co-organizers are excited to bring the festivities back in full, to share Indian culture and to celebrate the city that so many call home.
“I think the awareness we are trying to bring is for people to work together,” said Matai, India Association president. “Every bank, every attorney’s office, there are so many Indians working here now.”
The festivities include a range of offerings, all free. Beginning in the morning, attendees will be able to experience a seminar on mental health and attend a yoga session. The day continues with henna, a parade, Bollywood dancing, music, cultural exhibits and an Indian styles fashion show.
The role of food
And of course, there will be lots of delicious food. Food is a key piece of the event, Matai says, not only for its importance to any celebration or gathering but for its ability to communicate culture without words.
This year, the event has five vendors, all showcasing distinct foods from different regions of India. Three vendors are coming from Charlotte, and two are from Greenville.
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“The food is so vast because we have four different regions – North, South, East, West,” Matai said. “We speak around 32 languages in India, and every culture has a different kind of food, so it makes a vast variety.”
Sanjeev Arora, owner of Saffron Indian Cuisine in Greenville, will bring some favorite Northern Indian dishes to share. This style of cuisine is generally spice-ful but less spicy and includes more dairy.
On the menu will be everything from samosas and chana parpri chaat to Chicken Tikka Masala and vegetarian hakka noodles, in addition to chai tea and mango lassi, popular dishes from the restaurant.
“It’s about showing the culture of India,” Arora said of India Day. “We live in the community; we are part of the community and we love to be part of the India Day event.”
When she moved to Greenville 10 years ago, Cima Mathur fell in love with the city immediately. She was working in medical services when she got the opportunity to take over a restaurant. She and a partner took ownership of Persis Biryani Indian Grill on Woodruff Road three years ago, just a few months before the COVID pandemic shut things down.
Mathur has learned a lot, but mostly the power of food to provide comfort and to bring people together.
“I have a saying that says delicious food is small and it’s a way of delivering happiness,” Mathur said brightly. “That’s where you gather people, you gather people at a table, and you eat. That’s where you exchange stories. That’s where you learn about other people.”
Mathur will be preparing some classic South Indian cuisine, which is known for its added spices and vegetable-forward dishes. On the menu is her version of chicken tikka masala, samosas, a chicken lollipop, chana masala (a chickpea dish), paneer and rice.
“Indians love dancing, music, food and friends,” Matai said. “So, this is what we are showcasing.
“When people leave, we want them to be happy, that they enjoyed the day, and that they learned about our culture, too.”
India Day takes place 9 a.m. - 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at the TD Wyche Pavillion in downtown Greenville. For more visit https://www.myiag.org
Lillia Callum-Penso covers food for the Greenville News. She loves the stories recipes tell and finds inspiration in the people behind them. When she’s not exploring local food, she can be found running, both for pleasure and to keep up with her 6-year-old twins. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 864-478-5872, or on Facebook at facebook.com/lillia.callumpenso.
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This article originally appeared on Greenville News: India Day will showcase culture and delicious food in Greenville