Saturday September 19th 2009 - The California Plaza in downtown Los Angeles played host to an extravagant evening of Indian food, music and culture presented by the India Tourism Bureau and the Experience India Society. The opulent evening began with cocktails and appetizers under the stars on the upper level of the California Plaza's courtyard. Booths were set up along the promenade with artisans showcasing an assortment of crafts, clothing and products that were available for sale. The Rural Tourism Project, partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, highlighted a diverse group of skilled artisans from 36 out of 139 rural sites throughout 20 states across India. The experience is branded as Explore Rural India.
In addition, National Geographic, Incredible India and Air India sponsored a major photographic exhibit representing India's culture from some of its top photographers. Vibrant images were displayed showcasing everything from India's stunning panoramic views of its landscapes and its cities to portraits of its people. The exhibit remained up for the entire weekend for the public to enjoy as well. In addition, large, colorful, photographic banners with images of India also adorned the patio area as part of the exhibit. Although the evening had just beginning, you couldn't help but feel drawn to discover and explore the mystery of this beautiful country.
World renowned professional athlete, sports commentator and United Nations Messenger of Peace appointee, Vijay Amritraj, gave an eloquent speech welcoming everyone to the event. "You must not just visit India", he said, "You must feel it!". I couldn't agree more. I had the pleasure of visiting India while shooting a Bollywood motion picture at the Film City production facility outside Mumbai. The people, the culture and of course the exotic food make any trip to India a life changing experience.
Following the opening reception, we were led downstairs to the main floor where tables were set up for dinner. A large professional staff was waiting our arrival to personally seat us. Even the table settings themselves were magnificent with elegant silverware and gold trimmed glassware.
The six course vegetarian and non-vegetarian menu consisted of a tantalizing assortment of food from thirteen of the most renowned Top Chefs from India's leading hotels. These amazing chefs were brought together by the Experience India Society. Grand Executive Chef Hemant Oberoi of the Taj Majal Palace won the WINE SPECTATOR'S Award of Excellence, and was given the National Award for Chef of the Year by the Ministry of Tourism.
I chose the (non-vegetarian) six course gourmet menu below.
First Course - Pinhaan (Amuse Bouche)
Dahi Pakori - Lentil dumplings in lightly flavoured spiced yoghurt, topped with a dried mango sweet sour chutney.
Second Course - Kabob (Kebab)
Pan grilled fillet of sea bass, imbued with a mix of southern spices.
Tawa Murgh Ke Parchey
Cardamom smoked picatta of chicken, marinated with fresh coriander, mint and saffron. Cooked on a griddle.
Raan Sikandari Bukhara
Braised leg of baby lamb with bay leaf, black cumin and malt vinegar. Finished in Tandoor.
Third Course - Qorma & Salan (Fine Curries)
Traditional Bengali preparation of prawn, simmered in coconut milk, green chillies, onion and ginger.
Boneless drumsticks of chicken, simmered in browned onion and yoghurt gravy, flavoured with cloves and cardamom.
Arhar lentils with a tinge of green mango and zesty garlic.
Fourth Course - Naan Bread
Taftan, Tandoori Naan, Tandoori Roti and Lachcha Paratha
Fifth Course - Biranj (Rice)
A delicacy of lamb and long grain Basmati, cooked on 'Dum', with saffron, mace and cardamom.
Sixth Course - Meetha (Dessert)
Shahi Tukra - An exotic dessert of saffron Rabri, spread on a slice of syrup soaked home made bread. Garnished with pistachio, almonds and silver leaf.
Phool Makhana Kheer - Puffed lotus seeds, simmered in sweetened milk, flavoured with cardamom.
During the dinner, native dancers entertained patrons with a mixture of group and individual performances.
Their brightly colored costumes shimmered off the pools of water that surrounded the stage, adding a magical effect to the proceedings.
The incredible gourmet dinner was followed by a fashion show by one of India's most recognized and popular clothing brands, Ashima-Leena. Color and embroidery are unique to the Ashima Leena esthetic and the brand highlights elegance and panache. Ashima Singh, designer and partner of the brand, said "We have a diverse approach which spans across the royal Indian costumes of the 18th century, through to the modern, elegant cutting-edge styling of today. We want our fashion to be passed on to future generations." The models runway was built out over the water with dramatic lighting that showed off the colorful designs. Water fountains in the courtyard shot water high into the air behind the models as they strutted on stage to complete the effect. It was simply an amazing show!
The India festival then continued thro ugh the weekend culminating in a cultural concert at the world famous Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night. India Tourism again celebrated as part of a full day festival by presenting diverse cultural experiences. These included everything from traditional handicrafts, to classical Indian music performed by the Ravi Shankar Centre and Anousha Shankar, to the very popular contemporary bhanga music performed by Malkit Singh and Khailash Ker. The festival began at 4:00pm to celebrate the travel fair, crafts festival, presenting bhanga dance lessons and more.
Experience India Society is an initiative of the leading hotel chains and tour operators to promote India through a public-private partnership with the Ministry of Tourism. The Society hosts food festivals, produces promotional films for the international audiences, and participates in special events to promote Indian tourism as part of the Incredible India campaign. Its ultimate objective is the creation of a unique brand position and building of brand equity for India in the world tourism market through effective image management.
To find out more about this amazing country and everything India has to offer, go to the tourism website at http://www.incredibleindia.org/