Wichita’s Sri Lankan population is only about 200 strong, so your odds of being offered traditional Sri Lankan food in Wichita aren’t good
And that’s too bad for you, says TJ Jayaratne, a Sri Lanka native and Wichita resident who regularly craves the spicy food of his homeland.
But your odds will increase exponentially if you visit the 33rd annual Asian Festival on Saturday at Century II. The event, designed as a showcase of Asian culture in Wichita, has grown over the years into a must-attend event for foodies. This year’s festival will feature 40 food vendors serving cuisine from 12 countries.
Sri Lankan food is new this year, and Jayaratne and his brother both will have booths at the festival. Their goal is to raise money to help finance a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in Wichita, he said.
Sri Lankan food is spicier than typical Asian food, Jayaratne said. Among the items he and his brother will be serving is a dish called koththu roti, a popular Sri Lankan street food made with curry and chopped meat and vegetables.
“It’s my favorite Sri Lankan food ever,” Jayaratne said. “It’s so good. Back home, you would find a koththu store or two every half mile or so on the roadside.”
The list of food vendors at the festival will include several local restaurants, including the new Bali Cafe, which serves Indonesian fare at 2716 E Central; Malaysia Cafe at 7777 E. 21st St.; and Zaytun at 2020 N. Woodlawn.
Passage to India at 6100 E. 21st St. will have a booth that will offer dosa, a dish that’s always popular at the festival. It’s a crepe-like shell made from soaked and ground rice and lentils that's stuffed with a spicy potato curry filling and dipped in chutney.
Many of the food vendors present, though, aren’t restaurants but rather talented home cooks trying to raise money for their churches or organizations. Visitors will be able to sample the flavors of Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Pakistan and more.
Admission to the festival is free, although donations are accepted, and the food is for sale. Attendees can usually get a meal for about $6 to $8.
The event usually attracts about 6,000 people, said Mohan Kambampati, organizer of the Asian Festival.
“You can go to a Thai restaurant and try only Thai or go to a Vietnamese restaurant and try only Vietnamese,” Kambampati said. “But here, people can try food from 12 different countries under one roof. That’s the main attraction.”
The Asian Festival also will feature entertainment unrelated to food, including dancing, singing and martial arts demonstrations, a Miss Asian Festival Scholarship Pageant and vendors selling jewelry and art.