Festivals serve to unite people from different backgrounds in celebration and understanding. In India, food is irrevocably entwined with every festival the country celebrates. Diwali, especially, is a festival of fun, frolics and feasts.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Diwali food is sweets – and plenty of them. Mithai, as Indian sweetmeats are called, is little morsel of deliciousness, similar to a cross between a snack, a dessert and a confectionery. Popular ingredients like condensed milk, lentils, semolina, chickpea flour and vegetables like carrots and pumpkins are used to make popular sweets like laddoos, barfis and halwas, mildly spiced and fragrant with kewra water. Many are also blinged up with zarq or silver leaf for the festive occasion.
However, other than a few ubiquitous Indian sweets, most people are unfamiliar with festive fare that is traditionally eaten in various regions of the country. So, what does India eat during the festival of lights? This article answers this and more!
Here are some specialties that are inextricably linked with local traditions of Diwali and are eaten in different regions of India.
1. Kheel Batasha
Kheel Batasha (sweet puffed rice with sugar drops) are an inescapable part of celebrating Diwali in Delhi. Apart from the conventional drop-shaped batasha, popular variations of this crystalline sweet also include Khilone (animal-shaped sugar confection) and Hathri (tower-shaped sugar confections ranging from six inches to two feet).
2. Mawa Kachori
Rich dry fruit and khoya stuffed golden fried kachoris that are coated in sugar syrup, Rajasthan’s mawa kachoris can satisfy the sweetest tooth. The soft texture of the interior complements the crunchiness on the exterior perfectly to make a dessert which is absolutely scrumptious.
3. Moti Pak
A delicious sweet barfi made with chickpea flour, khoya and sugar, Moti Pak is a regional specialty of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Adorned with a delicate layering of zarq, this sweetmeat has a taste reminiscent of the much-loved motichur laddoo.
4. Chiraunji ki Barfi
Chironji or charoli are almond-flavoured seeds that are used as a cooking spice or added in desserts in India. A unique sweet that originated in Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, chironji ki barfi is consumed across the state on the occassion of Diwali.
5. Teepi Gavvalu
In Telugu, teepi gavvalu literally translates to ‘sweet shells’. It is made rolling a dough made from flour and jaggery into pretty shell shaped curls that are then deep fried and dipped in sweet sugar syrup. It a popular festive snack in Andhra Pradesh.
Rice flour and jaggery fritters studded with poppy seed, anarsa is an important part of Maharashtra’s Diwali faral (sweet and savoury snacks). On the morning of the festival, families rise early, bathe before sunrise and have the Diwali faral for breakfast.
7. Karanjis/ Neuris/Gujjias
A typical Maharashtrian Diwali Faral is incomplete without these delectable crescent shaped karanjis. This very traditional sweet has a crisp golden exterior with a fluted edge and a delightful stuffing inside. Regional versions of karanji are ghughra in Gujarat, kusli in Madhya Pradesh, gujjia in north India and neuri in Goa.
An ubiquitous festive snack in Maharashtra, shankarpale are diamond shaped sweet cookies dusted with powdered sugar. Totally yum, this is one snack loved by kids and adults alike!
Squishy sweet dumplings made from wheat flour, gulgule are commonly eaten during Diwali in many states of north India. These dumplings taste absolutely delicious with kheer (rice pudding) or rabdi (sweet thickened milk) !
A dense fudge flavored with saffron and dry fruits, mohanthal is an Indian dessert prepared on many auspicious occasions, including Diwali, as an offering to the deity. While preparing this sweetmeat maybe tricky, a perfectly made mohanthal can make anyone with sweet tooth swoon over it!
11. Deepawali Marundu/Legiyam
In Tamil Nadu, one must consume the deepavali marundu or legiyam, a concoction made of ingredients like carom seeds, poppy seeds, dry ginger, dry grapes, honey, jaggery, nuts, ghee and more. It is believed that this preparation aids digestion and makes sure that the stomach can handle the food deluge that is sure to follow on Diwali day!
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Every foodie would attest to the fact that Diwali is incomplete without crispy crunchy savories. This is exactly why thenkuzhal is an important snack in Tamil Nadu’s Diwali menu. Few know that the word thenkuzhal literally translates to ‘tubes of honey’!
A very simple yet delicious traditional dish, ukkarai is a popular Diwali dessert of the Chettinad cuisine. Made from chana dal, jaggery and roasted nuts, this unique preparation is an incredibly tasty experience for a creation as simple.
Singals are fried semolina spirals that are part and parcel of Diwali in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Soft, spongy and flavourful, this healthy delicacy made with semolina, banana, curd, milk, sugar, and cardamom.
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A winter sweet treat loaded with dry fruits, pinni is a Punjabi Diwali favourite. Whole wheat flour is roasted in rich home made ghee along with dry fruits, khoya and sugar till it turns a beautiful golden brown colour. It is then shaped into sinfully delicious laddoos.
16. Lapsi Rava Shira
One of Diwali’s most humble sweet dishes, lapsi rawa shira is deliciously earthy and very healthy with no fancy frills. It is an important part of Rajasthan’s, Gujarat’s and Maharashtra’s festive cuisine.
A melt in the mouth traditional Gujarati snack, cholafali is widely enjoyed during Diwali. Light and fluffy, with a sour and spicy seasoning of chilli powder and dry mango powder, this fritter is definitely an irresistible snack.
Deep fried golden brown cottage balls soaked in a deliciously sweet thickened milk, rasabali is an authentic Oriya sweet that can send you to foodie heaven. And yes, it is as visually appeasing as it is delicious to devour!
Poha, or flattened rice, is the star of a traditional Diwali celebration in Goa. Locally known as fau, it is prepared in five different ways on Diwali — bataat fau (with piquant potatoes), kalayile fau (with jaggery and spices), doodhatlye fau (with milk), rosathle fau (with cardamom-infused coconut) and a simple sweet poha prepared with curd or buttermilk.
A runny carrot kheer loaded with slivered almonds, gajrela is Diwali dessert pudding eaten mainly in north India. It is the cousin of traditional gajar ka halwa, only much more interesting in terms of flavor, texture and appeal. This rich, warm and nutritious dish is sure to make your heart melt, just like that!
21. Dumwale Suran
A lightly sauteed and spiced dish is made with elephant foot yam or ‘suran’ as it is called in central India, dumwale suran is a dish inextricably linked with Diwali dinners. Eating yam on the night of Diwali is a long-held tradition in the central states of the country.
22. Choddo Shaak
It is a long held Bengali tradition to eat Choddo Shaak, a preparation made of 14 different leafy greens, on the day before Kali Puja or Diwali. Diwali in Bengal coincides with Kali Puja and it is believed that a hearty meal of the fourteen greens keeps the evil spirits away.
A vibrant, colourful, joyous celebration, Diwali is also an exhilarating flavour fest. Just like the beautiful diyas that adorn the entrances of our homes, there is nothing quite like a dessert table decked with a variety of home made Diwali goodies. So, this Diwali, ditch the fancy ingredients and light up your homes with these truly traditional Diwali specials!