Happy Vaisakhi Surrey! Some of you may be asking yourself, “Just who or what is a Vaisakhi?” I had the same question until I moved to Surrey and started hearing the rumours of a gathering of the masses that come to pay respect to the Sikh religion and celebrate the harvest. In Surrey this involves upwards of 500 000 people (!!) converging on 128th Street and environs for a parade, music, vendors, a full-on carnival replete with rides, and you guessed it…FOOD! Even better: FREE FOOD!!
Sikhs have a tradition they call langar, which involves Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) doling out free meals to the huddled masses, regardless of race, religion, caste or creed. On any day of the year one can visit a local temple and share a delicious vegetarian meal with your neighbours, but on Vaisakhi this venerable tradition spills out onto the streets in a stream of businesses cooking chaat (Indian street food) out front of their shops and lines upon lines of locals salivating for their turn at the trough.
But never fear, the lines are short given that there are so many options to choose from. If you’re strategically-minded, you can eat from one stall while lining up for your next plate at another. And what wonderful options there are…
How about this creamy yogurt curry, mildly spiced with cumin seeds and satisfying chunks of potato and onion?
This was a popular one that drew lineups throughout the Surrey Vaisakhi festival, plain white bread dipped in a spicy batter and deep fried to perfection, with a dollop of ketchup for dipping. This one had a sprinkle of tamarind powder for tangy tongue-tingling tastiness! If anyone knows the proper term for this snack let us know in the comments so we can hunt down a recipe. Deceptively simple, surprisingly delicious.
The servers at Vaisakhi were all smiles and very friendly, even when the crowds tested their patience and we harangued them for photo-ops. We noticed several sneaky seniors budging through the lines and thought maybe it’s tradition to let the elderly eat first? Seemed to fit with the good-natured spirit of the festivities. Apparently not, as some (still good-natured) scorn was repeatedly heaped on the Aunti-jis as they were sent scuttling to the back of the line.
To top off our meal at the Vaisakhi parade we grabbed a plate of halwa, a dessert made from sweetened cream-of-wheat and slivered almonds, and jalebi which is a flour-based dessert soaked in sugar water and absolutely bursting with juicy sweetness. In fact I was stumped as to how this sticky but still dry-ish looking dessert could hold so much liquid. So sweet I’m almost glad there was only one. The plate also came with salted chickpeas and lentils that provided a nice counterpoint to the sugary bits, and we washed it down with the omnipresent chai tea (you can fill your cup at most vendors).
And with hearts filled with glee and bellies filled with ghee, we bid adieu to the teeming hordes. One last tip before we go though, if you join the party next year leave the car at home if possible; parking is India-style and the roads leading up to the parade route are chaotic. However there are extra buses running some routes to keep up with the demand so public transit should be a safe bet. Hope to see you there at Vaisakhi 2020 and tell us your favourite Surrey Vaisakhi stories and anecdotes in the comments section!