Taste buds rejoice: A revelation of Southeast Asian flavours

Promoting a message of regional peace, 2nd ASEAN Food Festival offered samplings of exotic cuisines.

Statues and artefacts on display (left) while visitors take interest in the South East Asian cuisines during the ASEAN Food Festival. PHOTOS: NNI/WAQAS NAEEM

ISLAMABAD: Few regional blocs in the world can boast of as much cultural diversity, yet such unity in their goal to pursue economic growth, as the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Exemplifying the cultural, artistic and culinary diversity of the ten aforementioned countries, the day-long 2nd ASEAN Food Festival 2014 was held on Sunday at the Indonesian Embassy.

On the menu were paintings, cultural exhibits, a crafts exhibition and song-and-dance performances adding multiple dimensions to the festival, which was headlined by separate stalls serving native cuisines from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Brunei.

Clear clouds played hide-and-seek with a blazing sun over the embassy’s lawn in the afternoon, as people moved from one food stall to the next to taste Southeast Asian delicacies of all sorts — soups, deep-fried snacks, rice- or noodles-based dishes, salads and desserts.

Among the dozens of guests, including Pakistani citizens and members of the foreign diplomatic community, exploring the dishes on offer, the Thai food stall seemed to be a hit with some.

“Pakistanis love Thai food, and the Thai Tom Yum soup being served here has been made using the authentic recipe,” said Omer Haider, an Islamabad resident who works for a cellular network provider. “It has the right amount of spiciness to it.”

The Tom Yum is a popular Thai sour-spicy soup with herbs such as galangal and lemongrass being vital ingredients, said Lalita Muadjienga, wife of the defense attaché at the Embassy of Thailand in Islamabad. A cup of the clear soup with chunky chicken and mushroom bits in it was being sold for Rs100, a price tag that was representative of the inexpensive food items at the festival.

Dr Feriyal Amal Aslam’s mother Zahida said she liked the Pad Thai, a stir-fried rice noodle dish. But Aslam, who is an anthropologist working for the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, recommended the Bakso, an Indonesian meatball dish served in beef broth with tofu and noodles.

“In Indonesia, Bakso is a common street food, much like we have gol gappay in Pakistan,” said Aslam.

The Philippines camp took pride in Chicken Adobo, a dish “found in every Filipino household” according to Filipino officials, which was being served with a syrupy fruit salad drink. Cooked in vinegar and soy sauce, the chicken seemed similar to a non-yogurt version of Pakistani chicken qorma.

Indonesian Ambassador Burhan Muhammad, the event’s host, said the food festival was being held for the second consecutive year.

“As we explore new opportunities for cooperation between Pakistan and ASEAN countries, the sharing of similarities in cultures and arts through this festival can help us learn more about one other,” said Muhammad.

Philippines Ambassador Domingo D Lucenario Jr, who is also the ASEAN Islamabad Committee (AIC) Chairman, said the festival will give Pakistanis a glimpse of the diversity of ASEAN countries.

“The ASEAN region is a melting pot of multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious people, but we also have very strong common threads that bind us together,” Lucenario Jr said. “Today while we celebrate those binding threads, it is also a modest way to reach out to the rest of the world.”

Mohsin Razi, the Additional Secretary for Asia-Pacific at Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the ASEAN region’s internal connectivity is an example for other regions in the world to follow.

Razi, who was invited as the festival’s chief guest, said the Pakistan government also wants a “peaceful neighbourhood” in South Asia. He expressed on his behalf the government’s interest in cooperation with Southeast Asian nations.

“We will keep striving to not only improve bilateral trade, but also to strengthen people-to-people contacts because that’s the most important resource we have,” said Razi.

The festival was organised by the embassy in collaboration with the AIC, which consists of the diplomatic missions of seven ASEAN countries.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2014.


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