Help us decide the better half of the festive menu: savoury snacks to munch on for hours, or juicy sweets to gobble up in a minute
When I was nine years old, “celebration” hampers of your favourite budget grocery-shelf chocolates were a brand new Deepavali novelty. I remember being so enamoured that I cleaned up an entire box in half an hour. Those 10 chocolate slabs (some quite large) will always remain in my memory, but I am here to tell you that the snacks were better.
To this day, what I regret about that night is not the stomach ache, or my parents’ horror — they had assumed the box would last a week — or even my brother’s severely disappointed tantrum (that was rather a plus point) but the fact that I didn’t have any appetite left for the nimkis. As a (clearly) pampered child in a varied neighbourhood, Deepavali was when my gluttonous palate would be widened the most. Bengali nimki, Punjabi mathri, Maharashtrian chakli, this festival is a true testament to just how much we love deep-fried flour.
Now, I know that mathris are also traditional to Rajasthan, that the Eastern nimkis bear an uncanny resemblance to the Western namak paara, and that chaklis are also called murukkus and loved pretty much everywhere. As a child, however, I imagined each dish to be the sole invention and rightful property of that one, gushing neighbourhood aunty who introduced it to me as her Deepavali ritual.
These savouries are far lighter than the ghee-laden sweets that give you sugar jitters and get over in two mouthfuls — forget even considering two bowlfuls. No, bowls are reserved for things you can actually savour for more than 30 seconds. They also make better company — fistfuls of flaky, peanut-strewn chiwda or brittle-like namak paara can last you for hours as you forge your way through the innumerable, mandatory house calls of the season.
This year, thankfully, visits are few. But what works better with a family game of cards: sticky jalebi or a pile of murukku? And, if you are away from home, what goes better with that Deepavali cocktail or beer: sugar-heavy laddus or something crunchy and salty that aids your fun while also curing your homesickness?
Trying to beat Meghna Majumdar’s Deepavali snacking record would be hazardous to your health and happiness.
With the kind of year it has been, do we really need one more thing — spicy food — to make us sniffle? Wouldn’t you rather have the warm comfort of something familiarly sweet?
Happiness is a shapeshifter and on Deepavali, it appears in the form of a soft kaju katli. A crumbling khaja. Mounds of khoya. Sticky hot unending jalebis.
Almost a week before the day of the festival, the kitchen smells sweeter than a bakery as you and your sister look up ‘quick easy recipes’ of besan ke laddu just to get the YouTube lady to confirm what your mother already told you.
Armed with an assortment of sweets that you put into 10 plates with assembly line precision, you begin your house calls. You know you have to send one to Mrs Jain because she makes the best coconut burfis in the neighbourhood, which she will put on your plate as she returns it to you. However, you don’t really care much for Mrs Sharma, who visits you every year, without fail, with family packs of a local brand of chips.
Listen, offer me a packet of snacks any other night and I’m your friend for life. But certain traditions — exchanging sweets, in this case — give meaning to our days. They are something to hold on to, in a chaotic world.
So gather round the dinner table with all the sweet sweet loot you have collected so far, and try to divvy up them as fairly as possible. (Your sister can have three khajas instead of one, because she likes them better. But that means you must get a larger share of the burfis. Laddus go to your diabetic father, because he has been waiting for Deepavali the whole year and today, even he gets a pass.)
Of course you can’t finish it all in one night, because cavities, so you set a stock aside to nibble-on at odd times for two weeks henceforth.
There’s a nip in the air and the houses on the lane are wearing their best lights. Outside, diyas are lit, and inside, a bowl of kheer extinguishes the paneer masala fire in your belly. Winter’s coming and you’re ready.
Sweta Akundi sings ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’ as she gobbles burfis on a moonlit night.
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