Diwali is the biggest celebration within Hindu and Indian culture, this year falling on 24 October. Otherwise known as the Festival Of Lights, Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness and is held over a five-day period, each day celebrating a different theme. Among the festivities and gatherings is of course all the delicious dishes cooked up to celebrate!
While Diwali foods are traditionally vegetarian, the feasts involved celebrate bounty and include the sharing of sweet treats, savoury snacks and perfectly spiced platters meant for sharing. Some of our curated list of recipes includes easy paneer and spinach biryani, versatile tangy herb chutney and a crowd favourite sticky saffron gulab jamun.
We chat with Chef Anjum Anand on Diwali, the festival of light, from her favourite dishes to how it is celebrated.
What are your favourite Diwali Dishes?
Diwali doesn’t have specific dishes. But it is always vegetarian so my favourite vegetarian dishes are black lentil makhni daal, crispy fried okra, vegetable biryani, shahi paneer, which is similar to a butter chicken sauce but a bit lighter, but also, dahi bhala. These are lentil dumplings that are cooked to be light and spongy and are submerged in flavoured yogurt with tamarind and coriander chutneys on the top.
We normally make an Indian dessert like kheer and my favourite is carrot kheer where there are strands of grated carrots cooked in the thickened milk. also, is it the only time of the year that I eat Indian mithai, like gulab jamun, jalebi, rasmalai.
What are the most popular dishes enjoyed in India during Diwali?
The best version of vegetarian food from South India would be Indian mithai and snacks for when guests come over such as; mysore bonda which is fried flour and spices stuffed with potatoes and yogurt.
I also enjoy delicacies like Teepi Gavvalu, a traditional Diwali dessert made from flour, ghee and water deep-fried in sugar syrup. It is delicious, very traditional and always a crowd-pleaser!
Can you give us some examples of some of the different celebrations in different Indian cities around Diwali?
Yes! My top three places would be Varanasi; they place thousands of coloured diyas into the dark river by devotees who stay true to their tradition and is a timeless celebrations.
Another beautiful city would be Jaipur or otherwise known as The Pink City! They put on markets that stay open all night long and host traditional performances for 5 days straight. It is a great way to bask in all Diwali traditions in one place.
My third choice would have to be Kolkata, where they celebrate with great food, dancing and lights from dusk to dawn.
What will you be doing this year for Diwali?
This year I have invited some of the school parents from my son’s school using Diwali as a good excuse to have them over.
It will be a multicultural crowd and I plan on having a very Indian/Diwali-themed evening. Lots of fiyas, lots of food, drinks and hopefully end the evening with a little card game gamble (playing flush, a fast moving 3 card poker).
It is traditional and considered lucky to gamble on Diwali and is also a lot of fun after a few drinks.
Any really unique Diwali celebrations that happen that the general Australian wouldn’t know about?
We spring clean and get our affairs in order so that we start the “New Year” in a good place. We don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions, but, if I was to do one it would be to meditate.
Like all Indian festivals, it is considered good luck to give something sweet to your friends and family so the day before Diwali, or in the morning, my family and I always buy lots of Indian mithai (small self-contained desserts) and Indian sweets. The night before Diwali we also place little candles or tea lights around our house to show the goddess Laxmi the way to our home (she is the goddess of wealth, which includes health and happiness), which we all light together; it always sets a really lovely atmosphere in our home.