It comes as no surprise that the best part of any festival is the food.
And for the biggest Indian festival of Diwali, nothing less than mithaai catches my undivided attention.
Often even more than the Indian adornments and finery!
Admittedly I stay aware from this sugar saturated treat, owing to its density, richness, and sheer variety that mandates a taste, but consequently concludes with a mandatory gym addiction.
On Diwali however, I give up while shopping with mom for desserts, amidst touristing. The tasting is always a merry reward that masks indulgence by putting taste and celebration to the forefront.
Diwali derives from Deepavali, which means row of lamps. It signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. Historically, when Lord Ram arrived after rescuing his wife Sita from the clutches of the evil Ravan, it was celebrated with lights and festivities. Amidst the noise of glistening firecrackers, populations welcome Goddess Laxmi of wealth into homes, drenching the air in a general mood of festivity. It is a day when everyone light candles, diyas, and chug sugar and flour combinations of mithaai.
Sindhi Sweets in Chandigarh, India, an opulent, lush town of glittering cosmopolitans and elite, is known for its sumptuous mithaai. Branched into a few stores, its flagship in the city center in 17th Sector offers the broadest and freshest of sweets, which I’ve had the privilege of tasting on multiple recent occasions. THe variety changes seasonally too, while a few hit staples remain for longer.
Many have wondered what mystical, almost galactic, but delicious combinations of sugar, flour, nuts and more work towards making delightful treats. The following are common types that are prevalent in umpteen Indian festivals. Use it as your glossary!
My favorite is the moti choor ladoo, made of flour and graham flakes, sometimes mixed with coconut or nutty flakes, and pressed into balls and fried in ghee. An offering to many deities and rather easy to prepare compared to others, it is a staple in any Indian festival. Variants include those made of different types of flour (gram flour being my other favorite!) or different ratios of nuts to sugar to flour.
The kaju barfi literally translates to cashew barfi, made of condensed milk and cashews ground into a paste. Always rhombus shaped, it is any child’s favorite owing to its edible silver foil coating and extra sweet taste. Kaju barfi is also popular in roll format, stuffed with pistachios and colored green coconut.
A spinoff is the kesar kaju barfi, which includes doses of flavorful saffron that adds an aromatic scent and golden tinge to the square shaped delights.
Badam barfi is an almond version of the very same, more grainy in texture owing to ground almonds, but sprinkled with the same coconut, pistachio and a whole almond for reminder’s sake.
A more spherical rendition is the kaju cake and kesar kaju cake, rather log like owing to its preparation in swirled sheets, interlaced with the same pistachio and colored green coconut, often alongside whole nuts like almonds or the namesake cashew. What distinguishes these from the sweet, dense and more firm texture of a barfi is their cake like, spongy and meltable consistency.
The kaju pera is a cashew based dense sphere, similar to a barfi but made with less butter. The consequence is a dryer rendition, which here was wrapped in silver foil and bejeweled with pistachio. A family jewel or a mystic eyeball? For Halloween and Diwali always fall within a week of each other…
Moving away from the nutty pastiness is my mom’s favorite pinni, a spherical shaped dessert made from dal or ground grains, clarified butter (the quintessential ghee) and gram flour. The result is a heavy, dense, and decadent morsel who’s texture is in between cake and barfi. Due to the high volume o ghee, every bite is a slice of decadence which sits heavily in the pit of the belly.
Kaju callori showcased that cashew was obviously a desired ingredient, for it was easy to formulate into a silky paste for the base of many sweets. Present in the crunchy, nutty, cannoli like callori, it was a an edible silver wrapped shell capsuling a plethora of pistachio, cashew and almond slivers. Not one of my favorites, but it is more protein-esque than sweet.
Being a lover of all things with dates, I am always thrilled to see its debut into barfi. The khajoor barfi is made encased with nuts to cut the gummy texture, and sliced into cuboids. In contrast to its smooth finishing is its more disheveled counterpart, which is roughly grazed and combined with coconut, making it chewier and less like gummy candy, further helped by adding pistachio and almond slivers.
Figs, the other spectrum of exotic akin to dates, were in the unimaginatively named Anjeer bites, which were similar to the khajoor barfi, only tougher and less sweet. For the sweetness of the fig is not enough to counteract the lower ratio with sugar, making it one of the more less saccharine of offerings.
Given that Diwali is a festival of light and festivity, the remainder of the day is usually spent with family or exploring the details of light, color and dance. Chandigarh’s cultural exhibits exposed me to traditional Rajhasthani desert dancers at Chokhi Dhani, a cultural fest that was thankfully in full swing when I was visiting! The interior décor that was nothing short of palatial with a touch of urban grub and peasant décor to complete the story of a yesteryear costume drama. Adjacent to the opulent architecture were a series of huts with chalk drawn murals on simpler walls. Against which women danced in multi toned lehghas and camels decked in mirrorwork finery chewed and gazed quizzically at the passerbys or at the lifelike sculptures.
Reminding me often of my own palatial costume drama, which ensues only second to my love for mithaai.
Come nightfall, the lights and candles came to life, giving the opulently designed interior and matching exterior a calming glow that beckoned time to not pass by so quickly.
For time lost is never found.
Wise words that I have consequently adopted.
Have a sumptuous Diwali and holiday season!