I have always been shy and reserved of all the color and vitality, the turbulence and the paint, the wetness, the trance and the intoxication of Holi. For me it has always been the food. Years ago I was shooting for my food show in the streets of Mathura. Mathura, along the banks of the Yamuna River, is considered the homeland and birthplace of Lord Krishna. While the intent was to discover the glorious street food this holy city has to offer, I found myself in the midst of intense Holi celebrations. Celebrations that last not one or two days, but a whole week.
In these streets of Mathura, Radha and Lord Krishna had openly romanticized each other. Mythology describes their pranks, and how the diminutive little Krishna, jealous of Radha’s fair complexion, smeared color on her cheeks out of jealousy. But at the Banke Bihari Temple in Vrindavan, it’s a very different Holi. Just a few days before the big color bash, they celebrate what is called Phoolwali Holi. Everyone gathers at the temple and instead of colors throw flowers at each other. That’s my kind of Holi, just days before the madness erupts and the ghats of Mathura turn into a wild shindig of chroma with sticks, shields, colors and cannons of water, and the streets are full of hungry revelers looking for a hot snack .
On every corner there are kachoris and jalebis frying in desi ghee. the Mathura kachoris are round and flat with a strong taste of hingesthey are spicy and crunchy and are served with aloo ki sabzi† Together with kachoris a plate of freshly baked jalebis belongs to the course. Most of northern India celebrates Holi in the same way. On the street, with color and kachori† Of course there is also a lot bhang and thandai also.
on it’s own, thandai is a unique drink. It is cooling, refreshing and vitalizing. Milk is ground with rich ingredients such as cashew nuts, almonds, cardamom, black pepper, poppy seeds, fennel seeds (sauna) and rose petals. It’s an unusual combination of flavors, especially since pepper and fennel are an unlikely combination in a sweet milk drink. This thandai however changes to bhang, a hallucinogen when a mixture made from the buds, leaves and flowers of the female cannabis plant, or marijuana, is added to this rich milk concoction. It is the influence of bhang that makes Holi a celebration of sublime frenzy and revelry and creates a hunger for food and sweets that is bottomless. So what do you do then? Go to the nearest place that serves you gujiya†
Gujiya is synonymous with Holi. equal to the karanji in Maharashtra, or the ghugra in Gujarat or the karjikai in Karnataka, the gujiya is crescent shaped puff pastry filled with sweet filling and deep fried. Traditional, a gujiya has a filling of sweetened khoya or mawa (milk solids), cardamom and nuts and sometimes sooji and also desiccated coconut. After frying this puff pastry, what mithaiwalas dip these baked pastries in saffron-infused sugar syrup and serve them warm, garnished with pistachio and flaked almonds. They are quite tender, juicy, sweet, crunchy and delicious when hot and fresh and considered auspicious on Holi.
Holi is undoubtedly the festivals of sweets. Another Holi specialty is coconut ladoos† Easy to make with just condensed milk or thadai ingredients and desiccated coconut, these are round sweet balls of fun and available almost everywhere Holi is celebrated.
Malpua and Rabric
This is another deadly Holi combination. malpuaAs you know, traditional North Indian fried pancakes are made with wheat flour, sugar and cardamom. Once the pancakes are crisp and golden brown, they are quickly lifted from the hot boiling ghee and dipped in a nectar of saffron and sugar syrup, then served with rabria, rich, sweet, creamy condensed milk. It’s sinful and enjoyable when hot and crunchy malpua combines with the cold, thick rabria†
No Holi celebration in a Maharashtrian household is complete without puran police† This is essentially a sweet filling parathamade by filling soft whole wheat dough with soft-boiled yellow valley, cane sugar, cardamom, nutmeg and saffron. Once the dough is filled, it is rolled out thinly and cooked exactly like a paratha with lots of ghee till it turns crispy and golden brown. Most people eat puran police as is or dipped in warm milk. I love my sweet, warm, golden puran police with spicy kheema or mutton. Sorry, I can get pretty blasphemous.
In addition to all these goodies, Holi is also celebrated with chaat and dahi bhalas† Soft balls of soaked urad and moong dal are baked and then soaked and dipped in smooth whipped yogurt, and served with a variety of chutneys, topped with sweet date and tamarind chutney, green spicy chutney, and sprinkled with herbs. This cold and tender, spicy and sweet dish, when made right, can simply melt in your mouth.
And I’m closing this celebration with a few more Holi specials. like spicy besan sev† namak para or shakar parathese are diamond-shaped fried cookies that are made either salty or sweet, and finally Holi bhang ke pakore† These are made with besanonions, herbs and bhang† I think if you can drink bhang you could eat bhang also. Besides, what’s more in life than partying? Eat, drink and be merry.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer from Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of this publication.
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