Delicious Diwali Delicacies

Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs celebrated today by Indians in every part of the world besides India, especially  the UK, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore is a beautiful time of the year that fare reflects local traditions. But beyond a vague notion of “eating Indian” most people outside the subcontinent are unfamiliar with common Diwali foods. So what is eaten during the five-day festival?

Diwali Sugar free sweets

The immediate answer is sweets – and plenty of them. Indian sweetmeats, known as “mithai” are a cross between snack, dessert and confectionery. If there is one thing that hypnotizes the Indian palate, it is  mithai. Little morsels are nibbled throughout the day, on their own, with masala chai or as part of a meal alongside savoury items.

Chickpea flour, rice flour, semolina, various beans, lentils and grains, squashes, carrots, thickened condensed milk or yoghurt are normally used as base ingredients; to which cashewnuts, almonds, pistachios, chirongi nuts or raisins are added. Fragrant with sweet spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg, they’re further blinged up with saffron, rose or kewra (pandan leaf) water, and silver or gold leaf.

Gajar ka Halwa

While “laddoos”, “barfis” and “halwas” are universally popular, some of other items like “mawa kachori”, “moti pak” and “sohan papdi” are more regional specialities requiring elaborate preparation. It’s customary to exchange extravagantly decorated boxes of mithai, dried fruit, nuts or silver serving dishes with family and friends.

Traditionally, around a month before the festival starts, women get together in each other’s kitchens in turn to make the all-important Diwali snacks. Snack-making is very much a social activity, with older women turning out a dozen or more items and young people keeping the tradition alive by making at least a few.

Maharashtrian Karanji
Maharashtrian Karanji

Special mention in the Diwali food platter should be given to “chivda”, with countless variations (each with a different name, diamond-shaped “shakkarpara”, noodle-like “sev”, sweet, layered deep-fried discs “chirote”, and a range of sweet and savoury “puris””mathiya”, pretty spirals of “chakri”, and crescent moon shaped pasties known as “ghughra” or “karanji”

Different speciality meals are traditionally cooked on different days of the festival, and these vary further depending on region. Generally speaking puris, traditionally deep-fried in expensive ghee and therefore rich in every sense, replace flatbreads; and are accompanied by a different dal, vegetable curry, fried titbits such as pakoras, collectively known as “namkeen” or “farsan”, and a pudding on each day of the festival. Many, though not all, Indians continue to eat vegetarian at this time of year.

Paneer Gulab Jamun

On the first day of Diwali associated with wealth, large-grain cracked wheat sautéed with ghee and sugar known as “lapsi” is very popular, and may be accompanied by a curry of yard-long beans which, due to their length, symbolise longevity. On the second day, associated with the elimination of evil spirits, specialities include anarasa, a rice-and-jaggery dish that can take up to seven days to prepare. Light, fluffy urad lentil pakoras are eaten alongside the milky rice pudding, kheer.

Some festive dishes from around the subcontinent on Diwali day include curry of courgette-like squash “galaka”, “ukkarai”, a steamed dish of split chickpea and moong bean batter;
“sheera”, a fudgy sweet of semolina sautéed with raisins, cashewnuts, cardamom and saffron like my banana version here, steamed fine-grain cracked wheat porridge dolloped with ghee and sugar known as “kansar”, crumbly doughnuts “balushahi”, and sweet flatbreads stuffed with mashed pigeon peas, saffron and cardamom called “poli”.


On the fourth or the New Year’s Day of Diwali, “puris” may be partnered with “shrikhand”, a chilled pudding made from home-made yoghurt cheese; and mixed vegetable curries made with as many varieties of vegetables as possible, as this symbolises year-round culinary riches. The day after the New Year is a celebration of the bond between brothers and sisters (Bhaidooj). Women spend the entire day in the kitchen, making their brothers’ favourite dishes and sweets, and are presented with lavish gifts in return.

Thus, Diwali, the festival of lights, colour and splendor has a grand reflection of its festivity in the elaborate and varied delicacies that it has been celebrated with over the years.

Happy Diwali!