Khabar Magazine. March 2023 print.
Besides being a festival of colors, this is also a festival of flavors. Here are some classic food customs associated with this joyous thewaar.
Holi is all about play, laughter, celebration, vibrant colors, and… food! This joyous Hindu festival marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the triumph of good over evil, and a day to forgive and forget. Merrymakers drown each other in a kaleidoscope of colors, blow off steam, and dance like Bollywood stars. Rangoli decorations, dhol beats, water pichkaris, and dry powders in green, orange, yellow, red, and pink make the lively backdrop of Holi celebrations.
Here in Atlanta, you have a few options for celebrating Holi. You can join an event at a temple, organization, or university, go out to a restaurant, or celebrate with friends and family at home. Holi parties typically involve drinking, eating snacks and sweets, and singing and dancing all day. If you have attended any Holi party or thrown one yourself, you know that the food preparations have to begin a few days in advance.
If you decide to cook at home, here are a few things to keep in mind. Meals served at Holi involve finger foods, not a sit-down or a full-course lunch. You want to present intense flavors that are spicy, salty, and rich, indicative of a fun colorful party enjoyed by all ages.
Let’s start with drinks. The most popular drink served during Holi is thandai which literally translates to “cooling off.” Lord Shiva’s favorite cold milk beverage is topped with fennel seeds, pepper, cardamom, almond, rose water, and saffron, and in some cases bhaang (cannabis) to make it boozier. You can use oat or almond milk to make the drink dairy-free and serve it in small earthen cups for an authentic presentation.
If you are looking to serve non-alcoholic beverages, traditional lassi, jaljeera, and fresh lime soda with kala namak (black salt), cumin seeds, and soda water are also light and refreshing choices.
There are many foods that are specifically served to celebrate the festival of colors. Make sure to offer a variety of namkeen (store-bought savory snacks), vegetable pakora, and mathri. Start with a chaat, such as dahi vada or dahi bhalla. The fried, soft urad and moong dal lentil dumplings, served with yogurt, mint, and tamarind chutney with sev on top, offer a sweet and tangy burst of flavors. You can make the vada a day before and have guests assemble their concoction using the toppings and sauces. Another popular favorite treat served on Holi is moong dal kachori which can be served on its own or with a side of spicy aloo curry, mint chutney, and yogurt.
You definitely want to prepare some traditional Holi sweets such as puran poli, a Maharashtrian sweet thick roti (flatbread) made with chana dal and gud (jaggery) stuffing, as well as gujiya, a Bhudelkhandi royal delicacy of crisp and flaky semolina pastry filled with sweet dried fruits, coconut, and khoya (mild solids). Indian fried pancakes called malpua are also delectable on a chilly afternoon and kids love them. To make the batter, mix barley or flour, milk, and sugar, and then soak the cooked pancakes in sugar syrup, before topping them off with cardamom and sliced almonds. These can be prepared in advance as well but make sure to serve them warm.
If you want to spread the workload, ask your attendees to bring their favorite mithai to share at the table. You can also make it an interactive cooking challenge where the audience votes on their favorite barfi or laddoo and the winner takes home a prize (think a creative Holi gift hamper)!
You may plan to serve food before or after playing with the colors. If you decide to serve food after, just make sure to provide guests with wet wipes and washing stations, so they can freshen up before eating.
And if you don’t feel like slaving over the stove and cooking your own sweet and savory snacks, stop by at one of the local mithai and snack shops such as Gokul Sweets, Royal Sweets, or BAPS Shayona that offer a good variety of fresh prepared desighee fare. Some also offer sugar-free options. Most Indian grocery stores also carry a variety of branded mithai, and many even offer their own creations that are prepared on site or sourced from specialized local vendors.
You can, of course, skip the entire hosting, buying, and cooking process altogether and celebrate Holi at one of the restaurants instead. Atlanta-based Naan- Stop and Chai Pani usually host Holy festivities that include specialty drinks, complimentary snacks, Holi powder, and live music.
~ Written for and published by Khabar Magazine. All rights reserved.