Dozens of vendors took over the Recreation Center at 1200 Koelle Boulevard in Secaucus and the entire Sadhu Vaswani Meditation Garden and environs on Saturday, Sept. 13. The event was Veggie Fest 2014, but the festivities weren’t limited to food. Inside the gym and across the lawn were booths handing out information on healthy living and yoga and selling jewelry and clothing, while musicans played on the patio facing Manhattan.
“We used to have this in Closter, where our center is,” said Sangeeta Lalwani, who was enjoying the afternoon with her extended family. She was referring to the Sadhu Vaswani Center, a Hindu cultural center and temple. The Rev. Dada J.P. Vaswani has made numerous visits to the meditation garden in Secaucus in the past.
“This is the first year that we’ve had it here,” said Lalwani, “but we do this every year. It’s to raise funds for the temple. We wanted a different venue and a different concept. Other years it was the members who were cooking and selling. Now we have the restaurants participating. They bought tables and then whatever they’re selling is their money.”
And the diners were delighted.
“So far everything’s been pretty awesome,” said Chander Feliciano, attending with Alex Contreras. “We live in Jersey City. There’s a big Indian community there and they were handing out flyers. And we’ve recently been dabbling in vegetarian, almost vegan, kind of getting rid of meats. So we said let’s go check it out.”
Sitting under a tent as a light rain fell, they sampled the fare from several restaurants. “We tried the [dosa], and a stand there has an Indo-Mexican fusion, so we had some tacos with roasted mushrooms and roasted peppers and another one with spicy tofu. And we just tried from this place in Jersey City, Curry On, deep-fried cauliflower with biryani rice. That was really good.”
“It was a big, eclectic crowd. Usually it would be more Indian people, Indian vendors, but not in this case. I saw everybody.” – Rama Ginde
A former Secaucus resident, Garza said he’s ready to come back to live. “I moved for work. And I changed jobs so I want to come back. Secaucus, I love it. It’s a great town.”
Meals for all palates
“We are selling six or seven different varieties of dosas,” said Shobha Lokesh from the restaurant Mysore Woodlands in Parsippany. Dosa are thin crepes filled with a variety of delicious ingredients. “We also have rice and lentil patties called idli.”
The kosher-certified, vegetarian restaurant has participated in Veggie Fest for 13 years. “We are in the restaurant business 20 years,” said Lokesh as her brother-in-law Raghunath Sundarraj cooked the food. “The entire family came from India. We are from Bangalore, a neighbor town to Mysore in the southern part of India. My father-in-law came to the U.S. in the 1970s. He used to work in Manhattan. Then when we moved to New Jersey in ‘98 we started our own restaurant.”
A few stands away, Rama Ginde cooked a variety of unique multicultural dishes. “What we have here is Mexican and some Mediterranean,” said her husband Ashok. “She went to the Culinary Institute of America. We used to have a store but we decided to take a little break. When the kids are a little older we’ll probably start up again. But now we just do private catering.”
The seven-year-old business, WannaBee Chef, offers chef services, catering, and cooking lessons. “It’s been a lot of fun,” said Rama, while her shy middle son, three-year-old Veer, hid behind her. “We’re going to start putting video tutorials online. We do a lot of kids’ classes. A lot. Like healthy cooking classes.”
WannaBee’s spectacular mash-up recipes were a big hit with the diners. “It was a big, eclectic crowd,” said Rama. “Usually it would be more Indian people, Indian vendors, but not in this case. I saw everybody.”
Harsh Patel, the chef at Mausam Restaurant, was handing out another multi-culti mix: Masala Fries.
“It’s a totally new concept, like an Indian-American concept,” said Patel. The delectable treats are only being offered at their new Clifton location for now, along with other creative concepts like biryani burritos.
“We designed that location only for a particular crowd,” he said. “The one here in Secaucus is a fine dining restaurant. We introduced the biryani burritos in the food truck. And it’s been a great hit. So along with that we’re introducing a few more things like these fries. Hopefully it’s going to work out as well.”
If so, the fries may end up on the Secaucus menu. One can only hope.
Jewelry and fashion
As the rain picked up over the afternoon, people moved inside the auditorium, where Niti Agarwal was selling hand-crafted jewelry she designed herself, featuring macrame, beads, and precious stones. “Everything is done by artisans, like villages doing the work together,” she said. “Jewelry is a new venture for me. I am a textile designer. I design home textiles. I wanted to do something different and add on to my work.”
Over the summer she traveled throughout India setting up her new business. “I went for two months and I scouted for what I can get made where,” she explained. “And then I styled them, colored them, and got them made. Something comes from Rajastan and then another piece comes from the southern part of India. All different parts of India.”
Across the floor, Divya Chawla displayed a rack of gorgeous Indian fashions. “I used to design for Bollywood movies,” she explained.
Years ago while doing a fashion show in Mumbai, she was spotted by talent scouts, who signed her up to create Indian costumes for the Hollywood movie, “One Night with the King,” with Luke Goss and Peter O’Toole. That launched her into the local movie scene, where she designed for hits like “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” and “Krrish 3.”
Moving to New Jersey two months ago to follow her love life, she set up a design studio in Lyndhurst. Her goal? “To be in Manhattan soon. To have my New York Fashion Week. And to do Hollywood movies. Nothing like it. Bollywood to Hollywood.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.