If you’ve ever had a Hindu, Sikh, or Jain friend, then you’ve definitely heard about the importance of Diwali, the festival of lights, which is widely celebrated around the globe.
The date of Diwali is determined by the Indian lunar calendar and changes every year. The predominantly Indian festival is an official holiday in many countries including Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Trinidad, Jamaica as well as India itself.
While Diwali is observed and celebrated for different reasons by different religions of the world, the most central perception is that it’s celebrated as the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
Diwali celebrations last for five days, but preparations start way ahead. People start the annual cleaning of their houses and many are even seen whitewashing their homes, symbolizing the washing away of the old and welcoming in the new. People decorate their homes with lights and lamps of all kinds (similar to Christmas lights going up), and new clothes are bought for the day. Sweets, which are central to the occasion, are either made or bought and then widely distributed among friends and family. Rangoli, which is a form of art created with sand colors on the floor, also adds some colors to the festival. People of all ages get involved in rangoli-making.
On the first day called Dhanteras, celebrations begin with buying gold or silverware. Followed by distributing sweets and presents to friends and family on the second day, lamps are then lit and prayers are offered. On the third day, Diwali or Dipawali, people celebrate by worshipping Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, and seek blessings from their elders. The celebrations of victory go on until the fourth day, followed by the celebration of the sacred bond between brothers and sisters on the fifth day, Bhai Duj.
Diwali is one of the most significant festivals of the year for Hindus, and is one of the few festivals when feasting instead of fasting is observed. Therefore, food is one of the most important aspects of the celebration. Although these particular types of food are eaten throughout the year, their sales and home-cooking skyrocket around Diwali. The sweets are undoubtedly and totally worth ditching your diet for!
Anything sweet is basically mithai, and so there are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of sweets that can be eaten. People either prepare sweets at home or buy them from stores that are especially re-stocked for the occasion. These sweets are both consumed and distributed as a way of sharing love and happiness.
The mithai varies from region to region. But you will find some common ingredients that are included in many of them – ghee (clarified butter), condensed and dry fruits, and sugar – which is an absolute must.
Some of the more common sweets around Diwali time are:
- Gulab Jamun: These are almost like donuts served in a sweet syrup. They kind of melt in your mouth creating a sugary explosion for your tastebuds.
- Laddoo: Almost anything that is spherical and can be eaten is considered a Laddoo. But the ones we’re referring to here are the sweet ones (yes there are savory ones too). These sweet Ladoos are made with flour, like wheat flour, chickpea flour, etc., ghee (clarified butter) is an important ingredient and is what allows them to hold their round shape. You will also see some laddoos topped and filled with dry fruits, which give them a different crunchy flavor.
- Barfi: Picture tiny bits of fudge of condensed milk. Again, many variations are available in different shapes but these guys usually tend to be flatter versions of sweets that are more solid.
- Halwa: There are many different forms of halwa as well. This is mostly made with vegetables cooked for hours and loaded with ghee (clarified butter) and dry fruits and milk. The most common for Diwali are carrot halwa and pumpkin halwa.
- Kheer: A delicious rice pudding that’s topped with dry fruits and other Indian spices like Buchanania lanzan or Chironji.
2. Pakora or Bhajia
These may also be known by other names and are eaten all throughout India. They are made by coating vegetables like onions, potatoes, spinach, cauliflower, and others in a chickpea flour paste and are then deep-fried. These little snacks pair best with a cup of classic Indian masala chai.
Samosas may range in size, from the size of a toffee to the size of a large donut. These are deep-fried parcels of semi-cooked or cooked vegetables, most commonly potatoes, stuffed in a thin layer of flour.
4. Aloo Tikki
These are small potato patties that are filled with some Indian spices and are mostly deep fried. They are served hot and crisp and best enjoyed with yogurt dips, and chutneys (Indian sauces), chopped onions and pomegranate seeds. More or fewer toppings may also be served with Aloo Tikki by some eateries, like sev (tiny crispy noodle-like things), and savory puris (small circular flour chips).
5. Mathis and Chakris
Mathis or Mathris are like big thick chips of flour that are crisp-fried and are commonly eaten with pickles. Chakris are spiral crackers that are extremely crunchy and can be made with different types of flour, usually rice flour.
These are UFO-shaped flour puris (bread) that are filled with different kinds of stuffing, such as potato, onion, or a classic mix of Indian spices. They are most commonly eaten with Indian curry, chickpea curry, or potato curry. This spicy Indian chaat is a classic.
You can find/make these foods all throughout the year but there is a different charm surrounding them on the occasion of Diwali!