Light up your taste buds

Updates from : The Hindu

With Deepavali just around the corner, housheolds across the country are gearing up to ring in the festivities with foods to warm the soul

Festivity is in the air. Hampers, sweets and diyas are surfacing in the markets with a new fervour. Deepavali is a season of euphoria, which is reflected in the way each brand comes up with a new line of products, new fashion and new flavours every year. At this time of the year, a gentle nip in the air nudges one to indulge in the sweetness of traditional mithais and snacks made this season. Each region and community in the country has a unique menu. Yet the concurrent theme remains the same, featuring food that is rich, sweet and warming. The theme continues with social gatherings, as card games and chaupar, exchange of gifts etc are meant to warm up relationships just as the traditional foods around Deepavali warm you up for the coming winter.

Week-long festivity

This is a festive season, not just a singular day of festivity. Many mythological events have been associated with this season and there is a new festival every day for almost a week. Many gods and goddesses are worshipped during this time with new-found enthusiasm. Homes are cleaned, de-cluttered and decorated to welcome goddess Lakshmi who is believed to bring wealth and prosperity. Earthen lamps and candles are lit to celebrate Lord Rama’s homecoming. It becomes a festival for everyone, celebrating all good things in life.

While the worship rituals reflect the way communities functioned in an ancient society, the culinary traditions around Deepavali are influenced by local produce from across the country. It is the season of harvest as well and traditionally fresh harvest of rice and sugarcane are used in ritual forms even now, though mithais of chocolate and red velvet hues make an appearance as well.

Kheel batasha (popped rice and hollow sugar candy) remains the real prasad. Many rice preparations are made for Annakut puja for the day after Deepavali to worship Annapurna, the goddess of anna (rice or grain). Another significant traditional Deepavali offering is the cheeni ke khilone, toys made of melted sugar in the shapes of animals, flowers, gods and goddesses that have survived the test of time. Made by batasha makers, these sweets are popular this season across North India. Mishri bazaar of Kanpur and Batashe wali gali in Lucknow are famous for these sugar toys but they are also made in Punjab, Haryana and even in Bengal and Maharashtra.

These treats are made using wooden moulds even at home in Maharashtra where Diwali faral is a big business patronised by Gujaratis and Maharashtrians alike. Several types of ladoos, coconut burfi, karanjis (stuffed sweet or savoury pastry) and chiwdas are made this season.

Flavours of the season

With several nuts and seeds being harvested this season, sesame, peanuts and other nuts are used to make various sweets and savouries. In the northern parts of India the mewe ke ladoo, mewa bati, kaju, badam or pista katlis are considered fit for the festivities apart from besan ke ladoo, shakkarpare, balushahi, boondi ladoos etc.

In some parts of UP, Bihar and Jharkhand the use of sooran (Elephant foot Yam) is considered auspicious as it is considered to be a plant that never gets destroyed. The old mithai makers of Banaras even make sooran ke ladoo using this underground vegetable; and these artfully made ladoos are a connoisseurs’ delight. Mithai making is considered an art and even the cashew marzipan used for making kaju katli becomes an artist’s medium during this season when they are shaped into diyas, crackers and kalash; symbols of Deepavali puja.

The gajak makers of Morena (Madhya Pradesh) make a delicate til ki barfi from the fresh harvest of sesame during the season. Down South it is badam halwa and other types of fruit based halwas that come into the spotlight; especially in areas such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These are accompanied by the crunchiness of murukkus and ribbon pakodas, dotted with sesame seeds. In Karnataka it is the coconut and rice based halbai along with the athirasam, coconut obbattu (stuffed polipoori) and several other sweets and savouries that warm the soul this festive season.

A break from feasting

Amidst all this feasting the day before Deepavali Narak Chaturdashi (to mark the killing of Narakasura) is reserved for food that is light and medicinal. For instance, Bengalis eat a mix of 14 seasonal greens as it is considered immensely healing. On Deepavali however, after worshipping Kali a prasad of mutton curry and luchis are a must. In Tamil Nadu it is the leghyam (a mixture of ginger, spices and jaggery) that is brought out to take care of digestive issues ahead of all the feasting.

As we gear up to ring in the festivities, I am praying for a variety of traditional fare on my plate this Deepavali. The chocolate and strawberry flavoured sondesh and rasgullas can do their circus, but it is the treats rooted in tradition and myth that that really warm the cockles of my heart.

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