Here comes India’s season for yearly weight gain. From now until the end of the year, across the country, starting with Ganesh Chaturthi and ending with Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the path to 2024 is lined with feasts and treats – we’ll begin with modak and end with marzipan.
It is said that there are over a thousand festivals celebrated in India over a year, every year, across religions and regions, communities, and cultures. There is no way to confirm the total number of festivals in this land, but this much is true: each of us has at least 20 annual festivals celebrated around us, depending on where we live. And every location has its biggies.
Nothing says Ganpati Bappa Morya better than a walk through Lalbaug in Mumbai, come September. Pandal hopping is the thing to do in Kolkata during the second half of October. For Nongkrem’s rousing music and dance, Smit near Shillong is the place to be in November. For Christmas, Kochi is magical. And for Diwali’s lights, colour, and action, Varanasi is hard to match.
When we think about it, in India, all our festivals are really food festivals. Even when, especially when, they involve some degree of abstemiousness. Sometimes, as in the case of harvest celebrations, the food becomes the festival.
There are the big feasts after long periods of fasting, as with Ramadan. Even those of us who don’t fast make sure to visit our friends’ homes for iftaar. During Shravan, faraal menus at homes and restaurants have spreads of ridiculously delicious, crave-worthy, wildly indulgent, carb-loaded snacks and meals, all designed for ‘fasting’ days. I don’t observe seasonal fasts, but I make sure to feast on handvo, singhada sheera, kand pattice, rajgira puris, and sabudana vada every chance I get during the month.
This week, Sindhis will celebrate Thadri; in an attempt to appease deity Sitla Mata, we will eat cold food that has been prepared a day before, and consume gut-friendly foods like pickle and yoghurt alongside. Apart from its temperature, there is nothing about a Thadri meal that feels austere. A few days ago, my mom sent me our family’s thadri menu on WhatsApp: meetha lola, moong dal paratha, koki, methi paratha, green chutney, boondi mattha, dahi wada, and fried alu, baingan, and karela. I’ll take it. I’ll take it all.
As you tuck into enthucutlet’s sixth season, Festivals & Feasts, think about the many diverse food and cooking traditions that are deeply tied to all our celebrations and rituals in India. Our writers for this season talk not just about the festive meals we prepare, the celebratory items we cook, and the ways in which we feast during our festivals. They also shine a light on the aspects of festivals we rarely get to see.
Hashim Badani’s gorgeous photo essay Bombay Batter takes us behind the scenes of the city’s bakeries during Diwali and Christmas. He documents a vanishing tradition: aunties and uncles from the neighbourhood renting oven space in their local bakeries for their homemade naankhatais and cakes. In Thaals, Thalis, and Theories, chef Sadaf Hussain talks about the inherent logic of traditional feasts across India. Chef Keertida Phadke takes the opportunity this Chaturthi to show us how modaks are made elsewhere, and how the Marathi diaspora has adapted to their adopted homelands in other states and countries. In Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal’s ghee-soaked story, we learn about the significance of sankrantis major and minor, and their connections to astronomy and the seasons.
As food companies’ marketing goes into overdrive at this time of the year, Ambi Parameswaran, an industry stalwart and the author of Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles: India through 50 Years of Advertising, shares the tricks that advertisers use to make us salivate. Vinay Kumar, a lecturer who writes about caste, food, and South Indian cinema, tells us about how his family worked their way around a community’s exclusionary Deepavali kitchen tradition. In her essay, @paticheri’s Deepa S Reddy makes a cake for Janmashtami. This is not just any cake as we know it – it is a three–grain malpua cake containing palm toddy pulp, a nod to a Vedic recipe.
Chef Gary Mehigan has a brand new show, India’s Mega Festivals, launching this coming week on NatGeo. (Its timing couldn’t be more perfect.) We’ve gotten him to talk about his most memorable food experiences while shooting episodes on Eid, Holi, Onam, Durga Puja, and more. We’ll send that along to you closer to the day of the show’s launch.
Indeed, all of India’s festivals are food festivals. Happy feasting! – from all of us at enthucutlet.