Every year, on the first Sunday of November, tens of thousands of Sikh from across the U.S. and Canada travel to Yuba City for the largest gathering of their extended community in North America. It’s the only public festival I’ve seen in this country where not a single piece of food is sold, yet I still managed to eat and drink for six hours straight.

Food is offered free to all who come: Every single one of the 60,000 Sikh (give or take 20,000 in any given year) who take part in the festival, and the few hundred curious folk like me who show up for the food.

Cauliflower pakoras fresh from the oil.

All along the side of the parade’s path are stations of Sikh men and women rolling roti, frying pakoras, stirring curries, and cutting sweets. Everything served is vegetarian, to be as inclusive as possible. Friendly, young men offer fresh fruit, water, juice, and hot chai to all who walk by — even the Christian evangelists with their placards and flyers.
A line of women roll fill bread with potatoes masala while a two-man team shares dipping and frying duty.

Men from the Punjab region of Northern India were among the earliest immigrants to the Pacific Northwest and then the Central and Imperial Valleys of California. Many of them were Sikh, and their hard work — felling trees, laying rails, and laboring in fields and orchards — helped build the West.

The November festival in Yuba City honors the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, and the recitation of its words is central to the procession. Large, decorated semi-trucks help pull the priests and musicians through the crowded streets.

This Thursday, I’ll be giving a presentation about the importance of the communal kitchen in the Sikh religion. There’ll be lots more photos, including many archival ones, and we’ll discuss how Asian Americans such as the Sikh navigated strict immigration and alien land laws to establish thriving farms in the Central Valley.

“Sikh Temples and Communal Meals: Religion, Politics and Potluck in California’s Central Valley”
Presented by Thy Tran
Thursday, October 11, 2007
5:15-6:45 pm

Magnes Museum
2911 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA
Contact: Erica J. Peters, Culinary Historians of Northern California
Phone: (650) 938-4936
Email: e-peters-9@alumni.uchicago.edu

The Indian karahi has the same lovely, generous shape as a Chinese wok.

Sharing Food Among the Sikh 26 January,2009Thy Tran

  • Amy Sherman

    Amazing! Your photos are wonderful. I wish I could be there for your lecture, this is something I know practically nothing about.

  • brett

    What a fascinating and informative post, Thy. Unfortunately chances are slim I’ll be able to make it to your talk. Busy moving. Are you planning on going to this year’s festival?

  • wendygee

    Looks like a very cool event to go to…for experiencing a different slice of life, great photo opportunities… and the food, of course! thanks so much for the information…I am trying to gather and experience all things related to India right now…researching various aspects of the culture before starting to plan a trip.

  • chinese recipes

    An excellent post, truly great photos and I hope the event goes as planned.


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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