On August 13, 2023, one of the largest Tamil food festivals took place in the heart of downtown Toronto at Yonge & Dundas Square. Kothu Fest showcased a blend of food, music, and culture. This event opened its doors to all city residents, no matter their background, and invited them to come and experience the rich flavours of island Tamil culture.
Kothu Roti is a beloved Tamil cuisine served at roadside stalls, standalone stands in bus halts, and bustling markets across Sri Lanka. Today, Kothu Roti is savoured worldwide, from Toronto to London, Malaysia, and beyond. Its popularity has spread to these countries through the Tamil diaspora. Tamil people have skillfully created a sense of home in foreign lands by forming connections with native and non-native residents through their culinary heritage.
In a demographic context, Tamil people are often considered minorities compared to the broader population. Despite being in a country where diverse languages, cultures, and political views prevail, there's one thing that everyone can agree on – food.
Kothu, which means “to chop” in Tamil, gives its name to Kothu Roti, a delightful fusion of chopped roti infused with aromatic ingredients such as onions, garlic, and curry leaves. It is further enhanced with the flavorful kick of chilli peppers and incorporates richly spiced curries and meats. The intricate layers of ingredients in Kothu Roti symbolize how unity can be achieved and enjoyed regardless of one's background, culture, or language, similar to how the dish offers an exquisite fusion of textures and tastes, harmonizing different elements into a culinary masterpiece.
While this dish symbolizes unity on the surface, the intricate blend of ingredients in Kothu Roti embodies the profound history of the Tamil people. It serves as an educational conduit, imparting knowledge about the Tamil diaspora, colonization, civil war, and refuge. Each of these challenges has been surmounted, leading to the creation of a dish that holds immense value, worth sharing with the entire world.
For this reason, Kothu Fest goes beyond being just a Sri Lankan Tamil food festival; it’s a symbolic celebration for Tamil immigrants forging an identity in distant lands after centuries of trials.
This year, Yonge & Dundas Square was adorned with a vibrant array of local Tamil-owned food establishments, including Kitchen Guerrilla, Bliss Station, Appa’s Original Kitchen, Saffron Spice Kitchen, Rotis & Rolls, Fitme416, Fusion by T, each presenting their authentic take on Kothu Roti and beyond. The event celebrated culture in tandem with captivating performances by artists like SVDP (Shan Vincent De Paul), S.A.M, AMU, and over 50 more, while being hosted by Marcus Haran, Zazu, and Sudhershi. This harmonious blend of genuine cuisine, artistic talents, live performers, and DJs encapsulated the essence of the diverse flavours reminiscent of Kothu Roti, endearing it to the hearts of many.
For 2023, Tim’s Financial, a subsidiary of Tim Hortons, has Invested in Kothu Fest, promoting Tim's Financial’s inaugural credit card. It's a heartfelt realization that a franchise that so many Tamil community members invested in has now come full circle to believe in an event orchestrated by the Sri Lankan Tamil community. In this light, Kothu Fest stands as a remarkable celebration of resilience, freedom, and hope, embodying the spirit of unity and cultural preservation.
What is my Identity? It's a question that we all seek to answer in our own ways throughout our lives. Each episode of Identity spotlights a different creative, some from the Tamil community and some from outside it, who will be chatting about how we take ownership of our narratives, art, politics and of course who we are. Catch these episodes of 'Identity'!