What Dubai’s Hindu chefs will eat at Indian Festival of Light
This week heralds the start of Diwali, the Festival of Light. Many cultures and religions celebrate Diwali, including Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. Kicking off this year on Tuesday November 13, it typically involves five days of celebration with family and friends. To find out more about how Diwali is celebrated in Dubai, we asked some of the city’s Hindu chefs what they’ll be eating and with whom. We’ve learned that Diwali involves plenty of traditional dishes, but sweets are the most iconic items eaten to mark this occasion. So, we’ve even got a taste of the dishes Options by Sanjeev Kapoor will be adding to its dessert menu in celebration. Happy Diwali and happy eating!
Brand chef Ankur Chakraborty at Zafran Age: 29.
From: Delhi, India.
In Dubai: Five years.
What does Diwali mean to you? It’s the beginning of winter, and the peak of the festive season. It is a happy occasion, and a time for families to get together, with lots of delicious sweets and fire crackers.
How is celebrating in Dubai different from celebrating in India? In India you can feel the Diwali festive season in the air. The markets are all lit up brightly and you see fire crackers everywhere. It is really beautiful and atmospheric. If we’re in India, we would light up our entire house and surroundings with earthen lamps and candles. I tried doing that in Dubai once, and my fire alarm went off.
What dishes do you eat during Diwali? Matar pulao is a classic dish, as we are beginning to enter winter – it uses fresh and seasonal winter peas – while palak ki sabji uses seasonal leafy vegetables. You will also see plenty of sweets, including sugar toys and kheel, a special type of puffed rice.
How will you be celebrating? I will be celebrating at home with my friends and family. If it is just my wife and I at home, then usually she cooks. I like her food, but if we have guests then I do the cooking, so I will be preparing our Diwali dinner. I plan to make matar paneer (with paneer and peas), palak ki sabji, plus all my favourite sweets: this menu is pure Diwali. The evening involves lots of fun, together with my friends. First, before the guests arrive, my family and I make rangoli – traditional patterns made with brightly coloured rice flour. At 7pm, which is a sacred time, my wife performs a special Hindu prayer called Lakshmi Puja. Then we light candles and wait for our friends to arrive, so we can celebrate, eat together and play cards, which is another traditional Diwali activity.
Executive sous chef Vinon Yergu at Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates Age: 30.
From: Hyderabad, India.
In Dubai: 14 years.
What does Diwali mean to you? Diwali is the Festival of Light and a social, family affair. It signifies an atmosphere of love, brightness and bonding of families. Spending time with friends and family, while enjoying authentic and traditional food, is the perfect recipe for Diwali.
How is celebrating in Dubai different from celebrating in India? For me, Diwali in Dubai is still very special. First thing in the morning, I visit the temple in Bur Dubai. Then I send good wishes to my family and friends back home in India, as well as those here in Dubai. I also distribute sweets to my close friends, relatives and colleagues.
What sort of dishes do you eat during Diwali? Lots of sweets and snacks are eaten for Diwali, and many of them are made more elaborate for the occasion, using ingredients such as saffron, rose, pandan leaf, as well as silver or gold leaf as a decoration. Laddu (ball-shaped sweets), sweet vermicelli and sweet chutney are some of the most popular sweet items, usually eaten with masala tea after the meal.
How will you be celebrating? My family are back at home in India, so I will celebrate Diwali with those friends and relatives who live in Dubai. For me, celebrating Diwali includes eating lots of vegetable dishes and sweets. During Diwali, Hindus are not supposed to eat any non-vegetarian food, so the best thing for me is to eat in a proper vegetarian restaurant, which is quite hard to find in Dubai. Mahec at Le Méridien Dubai in Garhoud is one of my favourites: to me it is a proper Indian restaurant, and they always offer a good variety of vegetarian dishes on festive occasions. I also eat a lot of special sweets, because the selection is so varied. Some of my favourites include gulab jamun, gajar ka halwa, besan ke ladoo, karanji (a Diwali sweet which can be sweet or salty) and jalebis (hollow swirls of dough served hot).
Head chef Chandra Swamy at Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites Age: 39.
From: Bangalore, India.
In Dubai: Two years.
What does Diwali mean to you? It is the Festival of Light, and it signifies a new beginning and new life for the year ahead.
How is celebrating in Dubai different from celebrating in India? In India, we usually go to the temple in the morning, then go home for a traditional lunch. In the evening, we perform our Lakshmi Puja, a traditional prayer. After that, we share our authentic Indian sweets among relatives and friends. The whole house is decorated and new clothes are bought for the entire family. In India, we also ignite oil lamps or candles around the house and set off firecrackers.
What dishes do you eat during Diwali? Definitely sweets! They are such an important, traditional part of the festivities – the Festival of Light might as well be called the festival of sweets.
How will you be celebrating? This is my second Diwali in Dubai and it is a very special one, because it is the first time I’ve spent Diwali in Dubai with my six-year-old son. During the day I will be working, but I always start my Diwali celebrations with a visit to the temple. This is followed by a celebratory feast with friends and family at my house. We wear our new clothes, share the sweets we have made and share our hopes and thoughts about the year ahead. My wife will be cooking this year. I may be a chef, but I trust her cooking, especially for an event as important as this. She will prepare some chaats, vegetable gravy, rotis and biryani – and, obviously, sweets. Lots of them!
Sweet treats for Diwali In most cultures, festivals and celebrations are intrinsically linked with the items traditionally eaten at them. Diwali is no exception, and in this case, sweets are certainly the main edible focus. Known as ‘mithai’, sweets are often seen in Indian festivities and have an important place in Indian tradition as gifts, to welcome, congratulate and thank others. They are also used as sacred offerings (known as ‘prasad’). During the five-day festivities of Diwali, sweets are usually eaten throughout the day as snacks, or with masala chai.
In honour of Diwali, Options by Sanjeev Kapoor is introducing traditional Diwali sweets but with a modern culinary twist, devised by the Indian celebrity chef himself. Here’s the lowdown on two of these special Diwali dishes, plus one for you to try making at home.
Chikoo ka Halwa Halwa isn’t just a Middle Eastern treat, it’s also a delicacy in India thanks to the influence of Arabic trade, and one that is always eaten at Diwali. It is one of the most popular desserts in India, eaten across the Subcontinent, with many regional variations in the recipe.
It can be made from a variety of ingredients including carrot, semolina, pumpkin and lentils.
It can also be made with chickoo (or sapodilla), a fruit that is very popular on the Indian Subcontinent, like the version on the menu here.
Kaju Pista Roll Kaju (cashew) and pista (pistachio) rolls are so typical to Diwali that according to the kitchen at Options by Sanjeev Kapoor, some might even say that Diwali is incomplete without this popular sweet. They are made with pistachio powder, cashew nut powder and saffron. The roll shape is made by carefully moulding together two marzipan-style sugar and nut doughs, one made with pistachio and one with cashew nut, to get that distinctive division of colour (green and white).
Basundi This sweet and aromatic pudding is a Diwali favourite, and popular throughout India. It is a simple dish and easy to make at home. This recipe comes straight from the menu at Options by Sanjeev Kapoor.
Preparation time: 20 minutes Serves: 6-8 people Ingredients 1 litre milk ½ cup sugar ½ tsp cardamom powder ½ cup chopped dry fruits
Method 1 Add the milk to a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat so that the milk simmers until it is reduced by half.
2 Add the sugar and allow the mixture to cook until it is thickened.
3 Add the cardamom powder. Take the mixture off the heat and allow it to cool.
4 Garnish the basundi with the dry fruits and serve chilled. Options by Sanjeev Kapoor, Convention Tower, Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 329 3293).