What Do Chefs Eat During Diwali?
Diwali is the festival of lights – a celebration of new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil. Every year, the festival provides a great opportunity for people to be thankful for all the things that bring light to their life. Like food. Food is a major focal point of Diwali with families partaking in hefty feasts and sharing sweet and mellifluous mithai.
Just as no two families are ever truly alike (your family might watch True Detective together while mine huddle around Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), the way that people celebrate Diwali can differ massively from home to home. Even on the same street. I’m no expert on the matter – this article from Sejal Sukhadwala on what’s eaten during Diwali is a super-comprehensive read on the subject! – but I was curious as to what the people who are really, really good at cooking tend to eat for the festival. So that’s exactly what I set out to find out. I was fortunate enough to hear back from a range of talented individuals and they were kind enough to share their culinary traditions of Diwali with me.
So sit back, relax, and be prepared to have an intense craving for gulab jamun. Here’s what some of the UK’s top chefs eat to celebrate Diwali.
‘Diwali for me, like most others, is always about sharing. We have an annual tradition where as many as four generations of Sharmas get together to play cards, enjoy some delicious food and drink tea. My parents always organise a huge feast with samosas, maa ki dal and various types of flatbread. For pudding, we then walk to my uncle’s house down the road and eat ladoo, barfi and jalebi. We basically eat tonnes of deep-fried and hearty food that keeps you warm while you stand outside lighting fireworks!’
Chet is the chef patron of BiBi.
“Diwali is a personal and family affair in Hindu families. Apart from decorating and lighting lamps in the house, it’s a day of worshipping Goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth). We at ‘Kochhar Gharana’ maintain a strict vegetarian diet. As far as I remember – for generations, my family has maintained the same tradition. The usual menu is:
- Chana Daal Khichri (Kedgeree)
- Raisin or Grape Raita
- Fruit Chaat
- Indian Sweets (Ladoo, Gulab Jamun, Barfi, Halva, etc)
- Lotus Seed Kheer
Once ‘Puja’ is performed, all the lamps are scattered throughout the house. Puja’s prasad (blessed food) is distributed among family members and then we take over the garden to burst the firecrackers. It used to be quite fun but we now refrain from it to not pollute our environment. For the custom’s sake, we may burst one or two small crackers – but that’s it. Afterwards, we would return to the dining room and savour the food that has been laid out. It can be as elaborate as one wants – but this old farming family tradition does it for me.”
Atul is a chef and restaurateur.
“I will be celebrating Diwali with my family and neighbours this year. I will be making my favourite samosa chaat and jalebi, loved by all. It is just like the layers of emotions, love and memories that I used to share with my friends while growing up in India.”
Romy is a chef, food writer, author and broadcaster.
“Diwali is always a wonderful family affair. It’s the one time of year when we all come together to celebrate. There are fireworks, festivities and, of course, feasting. Our Diwali table is always laden with delicious vegetarian food and sweet treats. You would likely see some Chaat beside heartier vegetarian dishes (perhaps succulent dumplings in a rich sauce, Phaldari Kofta, or paneer makhani), as well as Mithai and Barfi. In the cafés this year we’re planning a family feast with a new centrepiece, Jackfruit Nihari, which Chef Naved has devised especially for Diwali. A vegetarian take on the rich and robust Nihari – a lovely celebratory dish from a Muslim tradition - it contains hearty, warming spice and savoury Jackfruit, served with a soft onion and sesame seed naan, perfect for sharing with friends and loved ones.”
Shamil is the co-founder of Dishoom.
“Diwali is a time of real festivities and nothing says celebration more in Indian culture than the food! But it is an interesting time. During prayer ceremonies, it’s traditional for Hindus not to have meat or foods with onion and garlic as these are seen as passion or heat giving ingredients. So in fact in the lead up to Diwali, the prayer ceremony food is all very bland and very mild. It will be things like very simple dhal or kitchari which dahl simmered with rice. It will be turmeric fried cauliflowers or Indian vegetarian curries with interesting veg like okra, sweet potatoes, mooli and bitter gourds. So it is a real-time of paucity and restraint leading up to Diwali and then suddenly then Diwali happens.
Diwali is about sweets - those Indian artery clenchers of milk flour and garam flour simmered in hot oil soaked in syrup with cardamon and rose and saffron-infused syrups. By that time you can imagine we will be craving meat and that’s when we can crack upon the fantastic India home-style lamb curries long simmered on the bone with big aromatic spices. And that’s when the family gets together and we eat late at night with the juices dripping off our elbows over the smell of fenugreek and cardamon lingering in the air.”
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“As Diwali is a special occasion, I generally like to eat an array of delectable Indian sweets and chaats. One of my favourite dishes is also Beetroot Raj Kachori which I would serve as a starter for a Diwali celebration meal.
On this special occasion, I like to cook Butter Chicken and Muntjac Biryani as they are my all-time favourites and what better occasion to cook them for friends and loved ones than for Diwali? Though Diwali is generally a vegetarian affair, I always stick to my all-time favourites.”
Sid is the executive chef at Gymkhana
”The dishes surrounding Diwali truly embrace the essence of sharing and celebration, with the speciality dishes that are eaten on each day of the festival varying from region to region. Whilst there are plenty of sweets to indulge in, some of my favourites to enjoy include Rasmali (milk dumplings with saffron) and Gajar Ka Halwa (carrot halwa). As it is a custom to make dishes at home for the celebrations, two of my favourite dishes to feast on with family and friends are a homely chicken curry or Malai Kofta (with tomato fenugreek sauce) – the ultimate celebration dish, and even more so at Diwali.
Vivek is the executive chef, founder and CEO of The Cinnamon Collection.
“Diwali is the Indian festival of light and sees the whole country come together to celebrate happiness and leaving negativity behind. There is not a particular Diwali dish as such (like turkey for Christmas), but instead, lots of savoury snacks (mostly vegetarian) and sweets prepared by local communities. My mum always prepares different kinds of fritters and carrot halwa since those are my favourite. Food may differ in every house, but a common theme is positive energy, good vibes and loads of fun. At Benares Mayfair, we’ll be serving a special eight-course vegetarian tasting menu to celebrate the occasion, with a complimentary box of sweets for diners.”
Sameer is the executive chef at Benares Mayfair.