A cracker of a feast

A cracker of a feast

During Diwali, the festive spread across India is truly a symphony of all things sweet and a few savouries, too. Join Madhulika Dash on a gastronomical trail of fascinating tales behind these festive treats


Every October, Chef Praveen Shetty’s (executive chef, Conrad, Bengaluru) kitchen comes alive with the smell of fresh jaggery and coconut. Brought up on a healthy treat of puran poli (thanks to his Pune days) and a traditional Mangalorean home, this is the only way he can truly reminiscence the good old days when his ajji’s (grandmother) kitchen would remind him of the advent of Diwali. “It would be a few days before Diwali that my grandmother would start making the coconut-jaggery filling for the manjal iretha gatti, a kind of steamed, sweet pancake, which would be given out to neighbours on Diwali,” recalls the Mangalorean culinary expert. “But I would be her first official taster, and every Diwali morning, I would be the one to have the first pancake from the first batch,” he recalls. Today, it is Chef Shetty’s way of kickstarting the festival of lights with a manjal iretha gatti for each of his staff members. Fascinatingly, Chef Shetty is one among the many chefs who have kept such traditional sweets of Diwali alive by making it a part of their very own Diwali nostalgia.

Chef Giri Manni of The Leela Palace, Bengaluru, is another chef who transforms one part of the dessert kitchen to bring back those sweet happy days by creating some of the long-forgotten treats like kajjaya, nippattu, Bandaru laddu, rava laddu, butter murukku and sajjappa. While for most, Diwali is all about the Bandaru laddu, which gets its name from the place of origin and perhaps the oldest sweet that still uses the Silk Route-time rock sugar and handpicked cashew nuts, for Chef Giri, it is the savoury notes that best define the festival of good hope. “I remember freaking out on butter murukku and nippattu. Even though these sweets are commercialised today, the aroma of Diwali  nippattu and its taste feels like cinnamon in Christmas.”

Butter murukku
Butter murukku. Photos courtesy: The Leela

It’s customary

Agrees Consultant Chef Nimish Bhatia who has, in the years he has been in Bengaluru, taken an affinity towards Diwali treats of the South, and often starts his festivity with a mandatory tray of boorelu and unni appam. “I still remember when the first plate of unni appam had come to me and I had mistaken it as angoori gulab jamun, just to be amazed by the fact that it was made with banana and rice. Not too sweet or heavy, it was instantly addictive,” says the culinary expert who fondly talks about how it was offered at the court of Emperor Shah Jahan as a state symbol when he made Diwali a kingdom celebration.

Legend has it that a sweetmeat master was ordered to travel to the Mughal court to prepare it so as to be distributed during the lighting of the akash deep at the fort. While it is true that Mughals played a significant role in giving Diwali its modern-day relevant fanfare and sweet thal (the biggest of all); Diwali which was celebrated as New Year in Rajasthan; Bandi Chhor Diwas by Sikhs, Kali Puja in Eastern India and Naraka Chaturdashi in South, had its own treats even before that — with sweets and savouries custom-made for the occasion and rituals.

Like in Odisha, for instance, Kali Puja is celebrated with bali mansa and bhaat (sacrificial mutton curry and rice); in Kashmir, Diwali means a lavish feast of shufta (a sweetmeat made of dry fruits, spices and sugar) and in Kumaon, the festivity begins with bal mithai, and from Sindh comes the sev ki barfi. For the north frontier, it was pinni (a form of laddoo that is both an indulgence and good for health). In fact, says Chef Vikas Seth of Embassy Leisure, “In Amritsar, jars of homemade pinni are exchanged as part of Diwali celebrations. It is an integral part of every morning meal and even sweet treats during the day.”

Nods Chef Abhijit Saha who, having spent his chef tenure in various cities today, lays out a feast that could almost be called the modern-day replica of Emperor Akbar II, who was known for his grandiose festivity that included food for nearly 500 kings and novelty, a real life set for the replay of Ramayana, and of course, the lighting of crackers. “I love making a lot of pithas from Kolkata and the raj kachori from Rajasthan for Diwali as these were the traditional sweets and savouries that were a part of the Diwali festivity — all to be washed down with a plate of ceremonial luchi and kassa manghso from Kolkata and payasam.”

RAva coconut laddoo
Rava coconut laddoo

Tough choices

Of course, adds Chef Saha, “Every year, it is a tussle between the paal payasam and the chawlon ki kheer. While the former is best relished warm, chawlon ki kheer is had chilled garnished with fresh rose petals.” Fascinatingly, it is a tussle that happens in every household not only for the sweets to be made but how it is eaten as well. Like jalebi, a festival regular, for instance, is served with a layer of rabri in Diwali; and the famous malpua (sweet, flour-based fritters) with an extra layer of malai (cream). Then comes the Northern classic, gajrela or gajjar ka halwa. In North India for Diwali, it is made of black carrot, which is sweeter and velvetier than its orange cousin. Other knockout favourites are besan ka halwa which is yet another common favourite, and is used in making a wide variety of sweets, including the popular barfi, mohanthal, moong dal ka halwa, a lentil-based sweet dish made in copious amount of ghee (clarified
butter) and dry fruits. Of course, there are a few specials that make their exclusive presence felt for Diwali like the lauki ki lauj, a delicious sweet preparation made with bottlegourd, cooked in an earthen pot called the handi. This Meerut special is on the same scale of popularity as the sticky halwas from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

The other is Rampur’s mirch ka halwa, which is made with green chillies and uses liberal amounts of khoya to give it the perfect balance. Yet another is ukkarai, a special
form of halwa made of lentils and jaggery in Chettinad style. Malai ki gilori, which is made using double cream and khoya comes from the Mewari community, while the warrior community from Himachal has the Singhori, made with khoya, nuts and sugar and then wrapped in a leaf of molu, giving it that earthy nutty taste. And of course, worth trying is the chironji ki barfi from Madhya Pradesh, which was specially made for Diwali. This heavy-duty rich preparation, in fact, is the best remedy to fight any cold as
Diwali falls during winters.

Sagu kesari
Sagu kesari

All-time favourites

Curiously enough, the list of laddoos is rather limited in Diwali, which ranges from the all-time favourite boondi ke laddoo made of lentil pebbles fried in oil, soaked in syrup and turned into a ball of scrumptiousness; to besan ke laddoo, gond (a natural resin) ke laddoo, and the oldest nariyal ke laddoo. Among the dry sweets is perhaps the most popular kheel batashe and the customary khilona (sugar figurines) that was gifted as part of Diwali greetings, especially to younger people in the family. A big part of Diwali sweet trail are the dry fruits that are eaten in abundance in a variety of ways starting with barfi, chikki, jaggery spun gajjak, revri and as part of thandai. And the array of golden fried kachoris (deep-fried breads with filling inside) that are made across north of India to Gujarat, of which the most famous are the mawa kachori, pyaz ki kachori, dal kachori, to name a few. In fact, in Lucknow, a popular breakfast to start Diwali is jalebi and khasta (crisp) kachori, while in Benares, it is sooran (yam) ki sabzidal, puri and kheer, for those in Madhya Pradesh it is bachka (vegetable fritters) and puri. Sweetened rice made of jaggery (gud ke chawal or meethe chawal) is also had in many communities as part of the celebration.

Sweet paniyaram
Sweet paniyaram

Treats galore

For those in the East, the day begins with squishy treats like gulgule and chenna jhilli; while for Maharashtrians it is srikhand/basundi and puri. Diwali in Goa and Maharashtra is a selection of fau (pohas): bataat fau (with piquant potatoes), kalayile fau (with jaggery and spices), doodhatlye fau (with milk), rosathle fau (with cardamom-infused coconut), and a simple sweet poha prepared with curd or buttermilk. In the Jain community, the star attraction of Diwali is the khara khaja, which is made in sweet, savoury and plain, and is served with aam ka aachar (mango pickle).

So how does all the feast get digested? Not only with thandai but kanji vada, a non-alcoholic Marwari preparation and Deepavali marundu or legiyam, a concoction made of carom seeds, poppy seeds, dry ginger, dates, nuts and ghee. A few glasses of the former and bites of the latter, and one can digest any deluge — even this rich.


Manjal iretha gatti
Manjal iretha gatti

Manjal iretha gatti


Turmeric leaves - 4 nos
Coconut - 1 
Rice Flour - 500 gm
Jaggery - 100 gm
Cardamom (green) - 10 gm
Water - 300 ml
Salt - to taste


Take a thick bottom pan and pour water into it. Add salt and allow the water to boil. Add rice flour and half a cup of grated coconut. Stir well.

Make a soft dough and keep it aside.

Make a mixture with grated coconut and jaggery and keep it aside.
Wash and clean turmeric leaves and spread the rice mixture on the leaves. Add a bit of the coconut jaggery mixture and fold the leaf. Steam it for 20 minutes.

(Recipe courtesy: Chef Praveen Shetty, Executive Chef, Conrad, Bengaluru)

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