Diwali dining in Dubai

Vineet Bhatia tells Time Out what we should be eating this Diwali

Chef Vineet Bhatia
Chef Vineet Bhatia
Burfi
Burfi
Kaju katli
Kaju katli
Jalebi
Jalebi
Dessert 
boxes
Dessert boxes
1/5

Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his home and the victory against Ravana, the demon king. It’s a festival that brings friends, family, colleagues and perfect strangers together.

As with any good gathering, much of Diwali revolves around the dinner table, which is why Time Out caught up with India’s first ever Michelin-star chef, Vineet Bhatia, to talk more about the culinary traditions associated with the festival. ‘It’s massive in India – it’s our Christmas,’ Vineet says. ‘Every house is lit, every ceiling is lit. It’s beautiful – lights are everywhere.’

Regional specialities

Illuminations aside, Vineet says there is no fixed formula when it comes to the Diwali meal – it varies from household to household and region to region. In Gujarati, for example, dhoklas (steamed gram-flour snacks) are prominent during Diwali. Meanwhile, in eastern India – a region that takes a lot of its culinary inspiration from the Orient – momos (Indian dim sum) are popular. ‘These dishes are available all year round,’ says Vineet. ‘But they’re still important to Diwali celebrations.’

Dining

The dishes consumed during the festival are generally vegetarian, and dining is communal. ‘You have kebabs, savoury fritters and snacks, all served together,’ says Vineet. ‘There are also kebabs made from lentils or potatoes, or paneer filled with mango chutney and deep fried, like a tempura. You’ll also have a little salad of lentils to go with that, and a raita with fresh fruit in it. Lentil dumplings can be packed with raisins and cashew nuts, soaked in sweet yoghurt and topped with chutney. We also do wheat puffs with savoury fillings, served with chutney.’

Desserts

Vineet’s true Diwali passion is Indian desserts. ‘I love them! Diwali is the best time [for desserts] because they come in beautifully embroidered boxes, decorated with different colours and fabrics. When you untie the ribbons, you find this spectrum of colours in the box. As a child I always found them so enticing – I loved it.’

Burfi
‘A burfi is basically a reduced milk cake. But these can be rolled up, shaped into a lozenge or a round ball. The flavouring can be absolutely anything – pistachio, white chocolate, figs, mango, rose petals, cardamom, almonds, poppy seeds… it is endless. Now, in India, they have started shaping them into fruits – they make them look like an apple, a banana, a papaya. It’s a joy to try these things. Just sitting here talking about it makes my mouth water.’

Jalebi
‘I love sweets, especially jalebis,’ says Vineet. ‘They’re basically spiral tubes, made of flour and deep fried, then soaked into sweet sugar syrup – they have to be sweet, otherwise they don’t taste nice. When you bite into them, they’re crispy and warm. I have a massive sweet tooth. Not just a sweet tooth, but sweet teeth!’

Kaju katli
‘The majority of these sweets are based on milk, but a condensed form of milk – one of the classics is called kaju katli. It’s like marzipan made from cashew nuts and has a topping of edible silver foil – the more money you spend, the better quality you get. If you really want to go OTT, you buy the ones with the gold leaf – these kaju katlis are filled with saffron.’
Vineet has put together a special vegetarian menu for Diwali. Call for details. Indego by Vineet, Grosvenor House, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888)

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