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A gourmet experience to tickle your senses.

Summary: The aroma of the spices was enough to arouse an appetite in nearly everyone at the dinner table.

JOUNIEH, Lebanon: The aroma of the spices was enough to arouse an appetite in nearly everyone at the dinner table. The curries, some creamy, others buttery, introduced a party full of Lebanese guests to the richness of Indian cuisine and culture. "Our food reflects balance, peace and longevity," said Anita Nayar, the ambassador of India. "I think food is important because it gives an introduction into the kind of people we are."

For five days that ended Thursday, the Indian Embassy invited numerous guests to its second annual Indian Food Festival in Casino Du Liban. Featuring 12 dishes in a buffet style dinner, many people arrived to the event without knowing what to expect. But when they finished, the diversity of the cuisine left guests enchanted about India's multiple cultural aspects.

Nabil Ballouz, a guest who attended the dinner, said the food wasn't only terrific but that it's also made him interested to visit the country when he can. "I was at the festival last year too, and the food was truly incredible," he told The Daily Star, while eating a plate full of food that featured numerous different spices and colors.

Anish Kanswal, the lead chef who prepared the food for the event, said cuisine is a cultural tool that transcends national barriers. Wearing his white cooking garment, he said that the only way to prepare the cuisine was to bring all the spices with him from India.

"Indian food is of course made best with Indian spices," said Kanswal, before the dinner commenced. "It's important to feature dishes from the north and the south [of India] so that our guests can experience the full spectrum of our cuisine."

Nayar agreed, but added that food also provided an opportunity for a culture to transmit their values and identity. "India is a country full of diversity under one roof," she said. "Most of all, it's about achieving a healthy balance. That's what we try to communicate in our cuisine."

Indian food is known to use spices to improve health and vitality. Whether it's the use of ginger, which helps relieve colds, or cumin, which helps ease digestion, the spices and flavors offer a perfect balance for pleasure and well-being.

"Every spice has its medicinal value," Nayar said.

Nevertheless, Indian cuisine remains underexplored in Lebanon. To date, there are only three restaurants in the country. And while Nayar admitted that the food in these restaurants was standard, she hoped events like these could help expose the best of her country's cuisine to international audiences.

For Chef Kanswal, food is also a vital component to communicate with others. While working to prepare the cuisine with Lebanese chefs, he said that he didn't need to know a word in Arabic to explain how to properly cook Indian food to his colleagues.

Whether he instructed his team to cook dishes extremely slow to let flavors absorb, or capture the moist richness and subtle spice to each curry, he insisted that food was truly the universal language. "When I speak, the chefs don't understand me," he said. "But we have the language of food. Together, we find our way to prepare something wonderful."

While the festival introduced many of the guests to new flavors, some guests said that a few dishes resembled Lebanese cuisine. "There is a fried patty that really reminds me of falafel," said Ballouz, before standing up to serve himself for a second time. "I think it's my favorite food here."

The food Ballouz was referring to is called a Shahi Subz Kebab.

This deep fried vegetable patty is crunchy on its surface and succulent on the inside.

The deserts were equally delicious, as few places have an array of sweets as dynamic as India. Prepared in two varieties -- milk-based or flower-based -- the festival featured crushed almonds over a milky pudding and flattened waffled balls: Each one offering a satisfying conclusion to a wonderful meal.

And while the Indian Food Festival was a success for a second time, Nayar hoped to make it an annual event. However, those lucky enough to attend only hoped they could do so again next year.

"Food is so important because it is a very basic component of a culture," Nayar said. "For me, the food festival is important because it helps to represent India in different ways."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Oct 3, 2015
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