Tamil Fest is coming and Suganthy Muthukumar is planning for it carefully — and yet she cannot know how much pasta is enough.
Stacked near the entrance to her north Scarborough restaurant, Applespice, were a dozen large Styrofoam boxes. As Tamil Fest 2023 approached, Muthukumar planned to fill them with ice and food to sell at the bustling street festival a short walk from her Markham Road plaza.
She will bring six types of Applespice’s Tamil-fusion pasta (flavours include butter chicken and a kid-friendly alfredo) popular with her younger customer base, she said, but not kothu roti, a popular grilled street food with variations on chopped-up flatbread.
“If I go with kothu roti or any other Tamil food, every other stall is making it,” said Muthukumar.
With organizers expecting at least 250,000 visitors this weekend, Aug. 26 and 27, Tamil Fest is both business opportunity for dozens of food and clothing vendors and the annual event bringing the largest Tamil diaspora outside the Indian subcontinent together.
Owner Kina Perambalam was getting set to bring Yarl Cream House’s Jaffna-inspired ice cream and falooda, a dessert drink of ice cream and other ingredients, to the festival.
“People like this, our back-home flavour and style,” Perambalam said as he held up an assortment for a visitor.
He sold ice cream back home, near the northern Sri Lankan city of Jaffna, before coming to Canada 30 years ago.
Perambalam then sold ice cream from a food truck for two decades. When it came time five months ago to open his first store, he chose a spot off Markham Road convenient, he felt, to the large Tamil-Canadian communities in Scarborough and Markham.
“Both meet in the middle; that’s why we came here,” he said.
Owner Kuna Perambalam opened Yarl Cream House on Markham Road this year and is taking his Jaffna-style ice cream and falooda to Tamil Fest on Aug. 25 and 26. | Mike Adler/Metroland
Hosted by the Canadian Tamil Congress between Passmore and McNicoll avenues, the festival will again tell stories of how Sri-Lankan Tamil immigrants and refugees settled here escaping a long and brutal civil war.
This summer marks 40 years since the anti-Tamil Black July riots, which killed thousands of Tamils and are seen as sparking the war, which ended in the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009.
In the war’s aftermath, Ilamaaran Nagarasa, a journalist known as Maran, reached Canada on Oct. 17, 2009, after what he described as a 45-day journey without a map in the bottom of a small, rusty cargo ship, the Ocean Lady.
“I am one of the 76,” he said, referring to the number of people on the craft who claimed asylum.
Canadian authorities, however, kept Nagarasa in jail for four months before releasing him and accepting him as a refugee.
In an interview, the Scarborough man said he tells his children the story of his life and culture but cannot talk to the younger ones about the war’s cruelty. He still dreams, he said, about walking through his hometown near Jaffna but this was where soldiers, when he was 12 or 13, kicked him off his bicycle and beat him with iron sticks.
In a small booth, displays at Tamil Fest will tell the story of the war and Tamil migration to Canada.
Festival-goers, tasting familiar foods or seeing performances from their homeland, he added, have an opportunity to remember Tamils still living in Sri Lanka, said Nagarasa, adding only international pressure can achieve a “permanent solution” for the island’s Tamil minority.
The festival this year adds a third performance stage and will feature entertainment from Bollywood playback singers to instrumental performances organizers say are “dedicated to showcasing the richness of Tamil tradition.”
Ashvin Balahumar, a singer with the Mega Tuners band, which he joined in 2015, has performed at every Tamil Fest.
The festival is a chance to perform Tamil songs in front of “my crowd, my area where I grew up,” he said, so he wants to do his best.
“It’s like a giving-back type of feeling.”