Food & Drink
8 Chefs, Makers and Artists Share Their Must-Have Diwali Bites
Devan Rajkumar, Sonya Singh and other creatives from the Indian diaspora on their favourite celebratory dishes.
by : Aman Dosanj- Oct 31st, 2023
Getty Images (mtreasure, santhosh_varghese)
When you google the festival of lights or “Diwali,” the definition usually refers to it as being a big deal in the Hindu calendar, which it is. Through countless candles, multi-coloured fireworks and the almost endless exchange of sweets and snacks, it symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, light over dark and the beginning of the new year. While it’s true that Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities celebrate the day, its reach stretches way beyond religious lines. When India is home to so many other faiths, it’s not uncommon for Muslims, Christians and Jewish people to join in.
Those belonging to the Indian diaspora now have roots that wrap around the world—and with that come new traditions. Ahead of November 12, we asked chefs, makers and artists in Canada about what they’ll be munching on so you can too.
Devan Rajkumar, Celebrity Chef, Ont.
The dish: Rasmalai
“It’s that time of the year we all look forward to,” says Devan Rajkumar, a Toronto-based chef with Indo-Guyanese roots. “Every year, my mother places candles in the diyas [small clay pots], scattering them throughout our home and on our doorstep. Together, we offer prayers, expressing our gratitude for our blessings and seeking more light and prosperity.”
On the day, the celebrations aren’t complete without Rasmalai, a spongey, cardamom-scented paneer-based dessert that’s soaked in clotted cream or malai. “This delightful treat holds a special place in our hearts, and we can’t resist indulging in it year-round. In fact, we often find ourselves competing for the last piece.”
@goldengully Re @sonalideo18 #rasmalai #pakistani #pakistan #pakistanifood #pcsetup #pcgamer #streammeals #twitchstreamer #tiktokcooks #foodtiktok #dessert #sweets ♬ original sound – Bilal Bhatti
Shobna Kannusamy, Pastry Chef & Founder of Soirette Coaching & Consulting, B.C.
The dish: Achappam
Shobna Kannusamy was born in Malaysia with a mix of Keralan and Andhra Pradesh ancestry. Just as eclectic, her husband grew up in Mumbai (India), Trinidad & Tobago and New Zealand. “Our son was born in Canada and carries his cultural heritage with great pride,” says Kannusamy.
Relying on her childhood food memories, the Food Network Wall of Bakers resident judge makes Achappam (also known as Achu Murukku), a gorgeous flower-shaped rose cookie with Syrian Christian origins. “It is essentially a batter made with flour, sugar, eggs, coconut milk, with flavourings like green cardamom, cumin or black sesame seeds,” she explains. As a kid, she would impatiently eye up mounds of plastic containers sealed with the stickiest of tape in the lead-up to the day. “Now, as a parent, I experience immense joy from witnessing the same giddy excitement in my son’s eyes when I prepare Achappam for Deepavali.”
@renes.cravings Achappam is a must at Christmas times!🎄Have you tried it before? #indianfood #mallu#southindianfood #desi #ukmallu #southindian#browntiktok ♬ Subhanalla – Navin Iyer
Jennifer Deol, Farmer & Founder of There and Back Again Farms, B.C.
The dish: Pakoras & Chai
For climate activist Jennifer Deol, the Festival of Lights was often the first opportunity for her multigenerational farming family to get together. “I remember making my own tradition with my siblings: we’d carve pumpkins and put tea lights in them,” says the Okanagan resident. “Last year, I carved a pumpkin with my son on Diwali, and we put battery-powered twinkle lights in it as a reminder of what I did as a kid. I got him to hand out Halloween candy to his grandparents as his offering of a treat.”
No matter how busy or stressful the growing season is, her mother will always whip up their favourite items from scratch. “Pakoras are a labour of love and require skilled hands and time to prepare,” she explains. “The taste of fresh, right-out-of-the-oil Pakoras and homemade Chai is a core memory for me growing up and celebrating Diwali.”
@foodnetworkca An all-time favourite 😭❤️ Full recipe on our website ✨ #pakora #pakorarecipe #indianfood #masala ♬ Imagine Kataware Doki as a wedding entrance – James Wong
Keerat Kaur, Artist & Architect, B.C.
The dish: Gulab Jamun
Keerat Kaur is a Sikh-Punjabi visual artist. When she was younger, her father would make a ghrūṅḍī, a miniature structure made from mud or clay, as a symbol of happiness and prosperity. “Ever since ceramic sculpture became a more prominent part of my art practice, my dad and I collaborated on a ghrūṅḍī and fired it in the kiln with fine brushwork and glazing,” she says of how that family tradition has organically evolved.
Foodways have a habit of adapting based on what ingredients are—or aren’t—available. That’s what happened with their Gulab Jamun recipe. Unable to find khoā, a rich evaporated dried milk powder commonly used in Punjab, Kaur’s mother ingeniously subbed it for dried milk powder and Bisquick baking pre-mix. I love how poetic this dessert is; the name translates to ‘rose plum. Gulab Jamuns are round and plump like the fruit, and they’re doused in gulab (rose) syrup.”
@travelandmunchies Finally got around to making these! #gulabjamun #dessert #indianfood #indiandessert ♬ Wind Song – Ludovico Einaudi
Tushar Tondvalkar, The Indian Pantry Founder & Executive Chef, B.C.
The dish: Malvani Thali
For chef Tushar Tondvalkar, Diwali usually involves a potluck-style meal with friends in Vancouver. “Since many of my friends hail from various regions of India, it’s customary for each person to bring dishes that represent their own cultural heritage,” he says. “We adorn our apartment with vibrant lights and conduct a Lakshmi Puja—[a prayer] dedicated to the wealth goddess—to wish for good health and success in our Canadian journey.”
Grounded in Malvan, a coastal town in Maharashtra in Western India, Tondvalkar reminisces over the feasts his mother would prepare to mark the occasion. “To name a few of my favourite dishes: Varan Bhaat: yellow lentils with fresh coconut and rice; Black Chickpea Curry, a deep-fried bread made from sorghum flour, lentil flour, rice flour, and spices; Shrikhand Puri, a sweet delicacy crafted from hung yogurt, saffron, cardamom and icing sugar, and Aloo Wadi, an appetizer composed of taro leaves and chickpea flour batter.”
@foodandfrolic Varan bhaat Varan is a simple dal without any spices or masalas. Extremely simple to make it’s truly a comfort food. Ingredients: – 1/2 cup toor dal – 1/4 tsp turmeric – pinch of hing – 2 tsp ghee – 1/4 tsp jeera #varanbhaat #varan #dal #dalchawal #dalrice #dalrecipe #dubaifoodblogger #uaefoodblogger #mumbaifoodblogger #dubaifoodie #eeeeeats #recipes #recipeoftheday #foodporn #food #foodlove #foodlovers ♬ Man Udhan Varyache – Shankar Mahadevan
Aditya Raghavan, Head Cheesemaker at Fleur Jaune, Alta.
The dish: Godhumai Halwa
“Playing with fireworks was a Diwali dream for every Hindu kid in Mumbai,” recalls Aditya Raghavan. Even though Raghavan consciously stopped participating in the religion at 13, the Edmonton chef and cheesemaker believes he’s learned more about Diwali since leaving India in his 20s. “What I cherish most about celebrations in Canada today is the ability to meet with Indians from various communities with diverse practices and traditions—and enjoying and appreciating all of it.”
Within his Tamil household, Godhaumai Halwa would be consumed after pre-sunrise prayers to aid digestion. While he describes the wheat flour pudding as “Kinda starchy, mildly gloopy and very sweet,” this medicinal breakfast ritual was a necessary step for the day of over-indulgence ahead.
@ektaskitcheninuk Tips for Best Halwa Recipe #shorts #halwa #dessert #delicious #foryou #fyp #easyrecipe ♬ Main Yahaan Hoon – Late Madan Mohan & Udit Narayan & Javed Akhtar
Rozina Darvesh, Owner North Brewing Co., N.S.
The dish: Barfi
North Brewing Co.’s Rozina Darvesh has a Czech-Irish mother and an East African Ismaili Muslim father. As a young child in Tanzania, her dad would fondly celebrate at the mandir (temple) alongside his Hindu friends. After he moved to Atlantic Canada, those traditions quickly disappeared. But a few years ago, the brewery owner decided to bring them back.
“Aside from making Barfi [a fudge-like milk sweet], we decorate with candles, read the story of the Ramayana, and make colourful rangolis before we go out to the countryside to stargaze and light sparklers,” says Darvesh. “This is [my son] Noah’s fave, so it’s definitely a Diwali treat.”
@sanjana.feasts Let’s make Burfi #easyrecipes #fudge #burfi #ramadan2022 #barfi #southasian #ramadanrecipes ♬ Wildest Dreams – Duomo
Sonya Singh, Sari, Not Sari Author, Ont.
The dish: Channa Bhature
“Growing up, Diwali was always a big deal in my family,” says rom-com author Sonya Singh. But during her parent’s “epic shindigs” in Guelph (Ont.), her younger self would cringe when they’d tear it up to old Indian songs. “Now it’s part of me,” she states. “They’ve taught me to embrace my roots and celebrate joyfully and enthusiastically.”
For Singh, the Diwali spread isn’t complete without Channa Bhature. “My dad had a secret to his recipe that he passed down to me,” she teases about the North Indian chickpea staple before spilling that he adds two tea bags to the simmering pot for a deeper flavour and colour. Singh now incorporates a dollop of Greek yogurt into the flour base of the family Bhatura (golden-coloured fried bread) as her own tweak. “Not only does it taste amazing, but it also gives it a healthy boost,” she explains.
@taniamannotra Reply to @ronak1786 When it’s #lockdown in #nz & all you want us Channa Bhatura! #cholebhature #chickpeas #bhatura #vegetarian #vegan #indianfood ♬ Bade Achche Lagta Hain by Abby V – Abby V
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