Guaranteed sunshine for the Southbank? Before you start sputtering like so many mustard seeds, prick up your ears. Last year, grey April showers were punctuated by the vibrant colours, sounds and smells of the extensive, exhilarating events making up London’s annual Indian Alchemy festival. And this year, it’s set to put paid to the miserable blues of our ‘never ending winter’ with a rambunctious, rather diverse series set to rock the capital harder than even the biggest bhangra beats.
My own brush with this year’s Alchemy started early – on a farcical hunt for the elusive Roti Chai pop-up we’d read was due to open that evening. Guided by wit alone, with neither signage nor smoke signal to assist our navigation, we climbed stairs, zigzagged pavements and toured the Royal Festival Hall. A mistake, of course, to think we could let noses lead us – having opened doors mere moments before, any spicy, enticing aromas were yet to weave their entrancing trail.
Finally we stumbled upon the chaat shack, happily handed a few complimentary tipples and nibbles for taking the trouble. The pop-up purveys Bombay beach snacks and a spicy, spiky cocktail menu. Tempting, but when you’re in scarves and gloves even at table, the hot, creamy-rich thandai toddy fiery with coconut arrack is really the only option. It certainly whet one’s whistle for Alchemy – whilst Roti Chai’s Keralan plantain chips are marvellously munchy, there’s a wealth of fine fare to be had this fortnight.
So build an appetite, for Alchemy’s fare is food for both body and mind. There’s plenty to digest, for foodies, thinkers, dreamers… Even right show-offs, with the chance to take part in a big Bollywood knees-up. The festival culminates in the screening of its very own filmi spectacular – the hugely ambitious ‘Bollywood Blockbuster in a Week’. Before that, though, Alchemy makes a song and dance over everything from Sufi soul to Punjabi party tunes via manic Manipuri drumming.
Should you hop aboard one of the numerous rainbow rickshaws scattered site-wide, you’ll go nowhere fast. These colourful creations are not for riding – they’re a row of roving artworks that have seen all corners of the globe. Other vibrant visuals include textiles from Fabindia, a storySLAM and a series of 100-word plays, fabulous fashion shows, a Yoga Jam, kick-stomping kathak dance displays, and a showcase of stunning works by skilful contemporary Indian artists and craftspeople.
The prodigious programme encompasses poetry and pictures, people and performance. Alchemy really offers a spicy, stellar line-up, showing just how intertwined the sub-continent has become with Britain, how important and integral its influence on the nation. Not least in edible terms, a fact Alchemy acknowledges by the balti-load. Along with Roti Chai’s pop-up, dine out on debates and a ten-day food market, featuring street eats, craft and produce stalls, and a roster of demos and talks.
Tastebud-tingling tip-offs? Masala Zone and Cinnamon Kitchen will be taking to the streets to serve up spicy snacks, but the smart money’s on streetfoodie sages and stalwarts Dosa Deli and Horn OK Please. Rumour has it the Dosa dame is a doyenne of delicious homemade paneer, whilst her other half aint ‘arf bad with a brushstroke – look out for their graffiti-ed graphics. Horn OK Please have bangin’ bhel and pani puri – and the friendly folks are doing a couple of demos to enable you to DIY.
Hungry for more? Take home your own taste of India in the form of treats from Mr Todiwala’s Parsi pickle range, offering unusual and traditional recipes based on beetroot, prawns, and even meat: boar and venison for the truly game. ‘Cook In A Curry’ Maunika Gowardhan’s demos are definite ‘dos’. Leave a little room for all the art, music, film, theatre, food, poetry, dance… Eat it all up with relish and be sure to savour – after all, Alchemy comes but once a year!
- For more information on the Alchemy series and all the event details, visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk
- The Alchemy Indian food market is at Southbank Centre Square daily from 12 – 21 April inclusive.
- Roti Chai’s Snack Snack is open 12 noon – 10.30pm daily until April 21st, at Festival Village, under Queen Elizabeth Hall