There is probably no better way to experience the soul of a place than through its food. Which is probably why festivals that focus on local fruits and vegetables have become increasingly popular across the world in the recent years. Besides satiating the gastronomic cravings of visitors, these food fests also help protect and promote the agricultural economy of the host country.
As such, India too has a plethora of festivals that honour its locally-grown produce and we’ve hand-picked the 10 best bets for you!
1. Avarekai Mela
Lablab or hyacinth beans may be native to Africa, and popular from Kenya to Vietnam, but it is in Bengaluru that the beans ace their popularity quotient. Known locally as avarekai, these flat beans are ubiquitous to the local cuisine and a familiar sight at vegetable stalls. But the city’s residents do more than just eat these beans in saaru and dal — they turn it into a celebration!
Come January, Bengalureans gather at VV Puram to get their fill of the avarekai at the annual Avarekai Mela, a festival to showcase the beans and benefit local farmers from whom these beans are directly sourced. Other than a fresh supply of the beans, crowds also throng the mela for the unusual recipes made using the beans. In fact, at the 2018 fair, there were 120 dishes of avarekai created by 150 cooks, from halwa and jalebi to shavige and paddu.
2. National Banana Festival
Held in the picturesque Kalliyoor village of Kerala, the National Banana Festival showcases India’s rich and vibrant heritage of banana cultivation. Over an eclectic array of nearly 150 types of bananas is showcased, including attention-grabbing varieties such as aayiram kaa poovan (literally the 1,000-finger banana), the ‘Pisang Berlin’ banana (that is loaded with vitamin A), and the medicinal patchai naadan (that can aid in healing chicken pox).
Documentaries on growing techniques and innovations are also shown to encourage farmers to grow and conserve different varieties. Visitors can buy goodies like banana chips, banana wine, banana biscuits, banana honey, banana preserves and even pickles. The festivals also has several stalls offering a wide range of value-added products from banana, such as footwear, pillows, baby beds and mats made out of the plant’s fibre.
3. Pineapple Festival
Northeast India is known for its love of this prickly fruit and the people of Manipur are especially proud of their pineapple produce. This fondness for the fruit is put on display at the Manipur Pineapple Festival, which is held in the last week of August or the first week of September every year.
Visitors can indulge in a little pick-your-own-pineapple fun, and after filling their baskets, try their hand at pineapple tastings. Live music performances and stalls serving time-tested local recipes are other highlights of this festival. There is even a Miss Pineapple Queen contest!
4. International Mango Festival
Having long been a much-loved symbol of summer, mangoes in India are no less than a cultural legacy. Little wonder why nearly 500 varieties of India’s national fruit take centre-stage at the two-day International Mango Festival held in Delhi every year.
From mango-eating and mango-carving competitions to live cooking kiosks and decidedly haute-cuisine preparations, this fiesta very successful brings the ancient Indian fruit to the forefront of modern gastronomy. There is also an abundance of mango-savouring stalls that sell everything from special varieties to preparations such as jams, juice and pickles.
5. Jackfruit Festival
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Savour Goa’s choicest jackfruits at the Ponsachem, or the Jackfruit Festival, at the village of Socorro. Held on the same day as the Sao Joao festival (a monsoon festival celebrated with exuberant revelry in the state), this celebration brings together locals and tourists alike, with both looking to taste traditional delicacies made from panas (the Konkani word for jackfruit).
The event features different types of raw and ripe jackfruits and their popular by-products like squashes, papads, sattam, and jacada. There are live demonstrations of cutting and deseeding the jackfruit, baking its seeds and preparation of traditional dishes.
6. World Orange Festival
Nagpur is known as the ‘Orange City of India’ and with good reason — the juicy and exquisite flavour of its oranges is world famous. In fact, the Maharashtrian city bagged the geographical indication (GI) tag in 2014 for its orange growers. It was with the idea of celebrating this heritage and supporting the local farming community that Nagpur hosted the World Orange Festival for the first time in December 2017.
Held at multiple venues across the city, the three-day fest included trips to orange orchards, recipe contests, orange-themed installations by art students, cultural parade and lots more. Moreover, orange farmers and experts from across 10 other states of India and foreign countries participated in the festival, which is expected to be held every year from now onwards.
7. Kadalekai Parishe
One of Bengaluru’s oldest festivals, Kadalekai Parishe is an annual groundnut fair that is believed to date back to the year 1537 CE when Kempegowda (the founder of the city) built a temple dedicated to Basava or Nandi atop a small hillock. Today, this hillock is known as Basavangudi and its streets are virtually synonymous with this ancient festival.
Organized on the last Monday of ‘Karthika Masa‘, the Parishe hosts groundnut farmers and sellers from all over the state and even from neighbouring states. Variety of groundnuts — raw, dried, roasted and boiled — are heaped on either side of Bull Temple Road and sold at prices ranging from anywhere between Rs 20-45 per kg. There are also carts selling chana (fried gram), puffed rice, bathas (hard candy) and other traditional snacks.
8. Konkan Fruit Fest
Bringing to the forefront lesser-known fruits of the Konkan belt, the annual Konkan Fruit Festival is held in April at Panaji, the capital city of Goa. Hosted by the Botanical Society of Goa, the festival displays a range of local fruits such as bakul, anvadde, rozanvadde, karmal, bimblim, velvet apple, white sapota, jujube, chafera berries, chirputtam, nakli badam and adao.
Besides fruit-eating competitions, gardening workshops and stalls selling culinary creations made from fresh fruit, the peppy three-day festival is also livened up by folk music and cultural performances. Special discourses on organic farming, horticulture, wineries, and food/ fruit processing are also conducted.
9. Chikoo Festival
The Maharashtrian belt of Gholvad and Dahanu districts has a history of growing the best chikoos in the state. In fact, nearly 66% of the local population are tribal Warlis who depend on chikoo cultivation for their income. With the aim of encouraging sustainable agri-growth in the region, MTDC has been organising a unique Chikoo Festival in the village of Bordi for the past few years,
A proverbial bucket-list experience, this festival is the place where visitors can run a ‘chikoo marathon’, participate in treasure hunts, savour traditional meals and try their hand at Warli pottery and painting. Visitors can also learn organic composting techniques, local harvesting methods and pickle-making (yes, from chikoos!) before picking sapodilla fresh off the boughs.
10. Strawberry Festival
Picking strawberries, sparkling like rubies in the sunlight, amidst the scenic vistas of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani is an experience not to be missed for all strawberry aficionados. Jam brand Mapro organises strawberry festivals at both these places in March/April, where you can taste innovative creations like strawberry-flecked bhel.
Sohliya, in Meghalaya’s Ri Bhoi district, also hosts a strawberry festival in mid-February, where you can pick farm fresh berries, sample some strawberry wine, relish homemade berry ice cream, and take home large bottles of fruit preserves.