Monday, 25 November 2013

Swan Festival of Lights 2013

The Perth Swan Festival of Lights is an annual festival, spanning across three days in 2013 to coincide with the celebration of Diwali. The theme of inner light is ever present at the festival, with light radiating from the big screen, traditional performances, fireworks displays, glowing candle lanterns from childrens' hands and of course, the stunning picturesque Perth City skyline as the backdrop of this luminous event.

With all these different sources radiating with light, colour and beauty, the simplicity of light on its own is used as a symbol to unite our differences while never forgetting to embrace the cultural diversity of our world.
Navigating the crowds
There's a big turn out for the festival, despite the night I visited being the last of the three nights it had already been running for. The food tents are bustling towards the later hours and I'm intrigued by the vegetarian spread prepared by the folk from Annalakshmi, whose restaurant overlooking the river operates by a simple yet most noble of all principles - the diner pays with their heart. Bless them.

I learn there's an impressive menu of dishes on offer as I swiftly skip past all the food vendors noting what's on their signs while trying to make it obvious that I am not pushing in front of everybody!
Beverages tent
There is a constant stream of customers at every single food and beverage tent spread across the grass, and the lines at each one progressively build longer and longer. It's a good idea to come early to avoid the crowds and minimise the wait - both in line and for your food.

The beverage tent sold an assortment of drinks; the one at the top of their menu seems to also be their top seller for the night, observing the amount of people at the festival with a mango lassi in one hand and food on the other. There's also a tea infused with Indian herbs and spices called masala tea, which sounds like a better option after not having much luck with the masala lassi at the Blue Ginger Club.
One of many vegetarian food tents
Food and celebration through eating is a significant aspect of the Diwali festival and although the options at the festival are limited to vegetarian dishes, there really are no limitations at all. Everyone is spoiled with a plethora of choice ranging from mee goreng and nasi lemak to more traditional dishes which I only learnt of on the night. The tents are distinguished by categories of food - main meals, snacks and desserts with the last category especially intriguing, with options like lentil donuts with coconut condiments or the cham cham, a ricotta cheese dessert.
Food and drink coupons
Although the cartridges of the people trains in front of every tent get longer and feelings of reluctancy to wait surface, the lines move quickly and the wait is not annoying in the least. The waiting time is slashed with an efficient coupon paying system being in place at each of the tents - these are pre-purchased at designated coupon tents and all orders are paid for using these and saves the fumbling around and delays that cash causes. Coupons are the official and only currency in operation at the Swan Festival of Lights, and the efficiency is tops.
Pilau Rice with Vegetable Curry - $7
We decided on a vegetable and chickpea curry with pilau rice as a hot option to inject some warmth against the cool weather. Pilau rice is a rice infused with spices and the meal was actually so simple but so nourishing as much as it tasted delicious. I haven't had a light, meatless meal in a while (shocking I know) and this felt really comforting and hit all the right spots.
Plain flour breads and wheat flour puffed breads, components to form the Puri or Paratha sets, which are both served with curry.

Plain Dosai: Flat rice pancake served with sambar and chutney

Masala Dosai - $8
Sambar is typically a stew, or a slightly chunky chowder with vegetables and dhal. The masala dosai is served with two accompaniments, and sambar is one of these. The liquidy, yellow-tinged sauce is initially not to my taste, but as I give it further tries due to my strict policy of no food wastage, ever makes me start to enjoy this a lot more than I thought. I like the slight chewable texture of the sambar, unlike the chutney which has a subtle hotness but no texture. A lack of eating utensils and a finished pancake later, I end up using my fingers to scoop out the remaining sauce - it's a messy encounter, but meh, it was good.
Crisp rice pancake
The dosai is a crisp scroll, a thin crepe-like pancake made from a fermented rice and lentil batter. Griddled until golden brown, they are served hot and with a potato masala filling that's pulpy but still holds its form. The dosai is softened in the places the potato filling touches but the paper-thin outer edges retain their crispness; I break off the pieces with a snap and practically scoop up the sauce condiments like a spoon. I'm all for using all sorts of food as makeshift eating utensils :)
Perth weather is a blessing!
What's a cultural festival without showcasing its culture through traditional music, dance and performances? Along with song and dance, there are fashion shows with beautiful traditional costumes and acts on the stage broadcasted onto the big screen. The huge grass area of the park is a relaxing place to leisurely sit the night away, watching the festival go by under a perfect clear cloudless sky.
Different stalls set ups dot the festival grounds, selling handicraft works among a variety of workshops teaching meditation and the cooking of traditional dishes. Festival goers can also experience the intricacy of henna tattoos.
Out of the festival's tents, the arts tent gathered a good crowd interested in its offerings. Other stalls sold clothing, sarees and delicate accessories with intricate detailing.

Entertaining children is catered for through face painting and - I thought I was going to fall off and die when I first got on this friendly animal at 7 years young - camel rides around the park. These kids looked pretty chilled - I remember gripping ever so tightly for dear life with my tiny hands!
This is one of many cultural festivals that Perth holds and to immerse myself into new food, the arts and everything else these types of festivals offer is a really great experience to recognise and embrace the multicultural diversity of our city. There's a big sense of community that is felt at such cultural festivals as people from all backgrounds gather together to learn about each other's culture, and Perth is growing into a bigger and better place to live because of it.

Happy festival going, there's more than just a few in the lead-up to Christmas!

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