In an urban kitchen where tubers are often sidelined, a new festival in Bengaluru is celebrating their rich diversity as well as the indigenous communities that grow these underutilised crops.
Rooting for Tubers, a unique one-day festival at Bangalore International Centre on 4 February, will focus on tubers—from sweet potato to yams, and regional favourites such as koorka (Chinese potato). The festival is organised by Spudnik Farms, a collective of organic farmers across Karnataka.
The festival will be an extension of Back to Roots residency program conducted in 2023 wherein Spudnik Farms took some chefs from Bengaluru to Joida in Karnataka to expose them to the diversity of tuber crops and familiarise them with the communities that grow them.
“The residency made us realise that there is a need or space for more such interactions between consumers, producers, chefs, distributors and researchers. People are often unaware of the varieties of tuber crops, the communities that grow them, and the stories behind the cultivation,” Sumeet Kaur, founder of Spudnik Farms, tells Lounge.
By putting the spotlight on them in a food festival, Kaur hopes that the mission to promote awareness about sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and the potential of indigenous tuber crops reaches a wider audience.
At the festival, there will be a tuber display, which will include more than 30 types of tuber crops from across India. This is organised by Edible Issues, a collective focused on fostering conversations around the future of food, as part of their Roots to Resilience project. “We want to show people the different shapes, colours and sizes of tuber crops. This is an important starting point because often people don’t even know about the existence of a lot of these crops,” Kaur says.
Kaur calls the festival more of an “educational experience” as there will be stalls by different companies and organisations that will show the different innovations, developments, and industrial applications related to tuber crops. People can also better understand the world of tuber crops through panel discussions on current innovations and challenges and building a resilient future.
An interesting aspect of the festival will be the interactions with the representatives from indigenous tuber-growing communities from regions including Tripura, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Odisha and Kerala. The representatives will share their expertise and experiences as well as talk about their sustainable traditions.
One of the communities, whose members will be present at the festival is the Kunbi tribe from Joida, Karnataka. “They are the traditional inhabitants of the Konkan area. The community from Joida moved inland in the 16th century when the Portuguese conquered Goa. During this time, they carried the tuber crops with them,” Kaur explains.
Representatives from ICAR-Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI), who launched the ‘rainbow diet’ in Attapadi, Kerala aims to address malnutrition among children by promoting the consumption of tuber crops such as sweet potato. They will also be present at the festival.
There will also be a documentary and short film screening about places where the tuber crops are grown.
“We can’t bring people from the city to different parts of the country, so we thought of bringing the places to them through some short films. These films are about the communities that grow these crops as well as the organisations that work with the communities. There are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the communities that have been growing these crops for generations,” Kaur says.
One of the focus areas of the festival is to explore how tuber crops can be made part of mainstream diets and improve their adoption by consumers. As climate-resilient crops, they require minimum resources and can be adapted to diverse farming conditions, Kaur explains.
“The people from communities that have grown these crops will share their stories about why they grow them, and how important they have been to their diets and nutrition. Scientists from different institutes will also speak about the benefits of these crops,” she says.
There are also preconceived notions about tubers, such as they are eaten by people from low-income families and those from lowered castes. Hence, the festival aims to bring people from different socio-economic backgrounds as well as castes under one roof, so that they can get the right kind of information about these crops.
“We are creating a platform where anyone curious about tuber crops and would like to know more about them can ask questions and understand them better,” Kaur says.
The festival will also include Yele Oota, a grand feast served on banana leaves for 150 people, which will feature more than 25 dishes made with tubers cooked by the chefs who will work with the community members who grow these crops. “There will be chips made of taro, a pickle made of elephant foot yam and an array of saaru made with a medley of tuber crops. The idea is to have flavours of tuber crops from across India on your plate,” Kaur says.
“The festival is a celebration of our roots, quite literally,” the official website says.
The festival will take place on 4 February at Bengaluru International Centre (BIC), Bengaluru. Entry is free. Visitors will only be charged for the Yele Oota to compensate the communities who will be making the dishes. For Yele Oota, the price for one is ₹2500 (incl.