By Conchita de Souza
By Conchita de Souza
My first Holi experience was in the town of Vrindavan, the place in which Lord Krishna grew up and where over 5,000 temples stand in honour of this blue-skinned, much adored deity. I had driven with two flatmates/colleagues to this town very early in the morning from Delhi, and checked into a hotel where another friend was waiting, oiled my hair and body in anticipation of the staining effect of the colours, and changed into a set of old clothes for immediate disposal. As we walked the narrow lanes, slowly filling up with people as they woke up to the excitement, everything seemed eerily calm and quiet. I remember thinking to myself ‘well this ain’t as bad as I thought, at least people are being civil’. There were many a cart on the street selling loose colourful powders, embarrassing my organic and chemical-free organic powders from the supermarket. My friends and I playfully threw colour on each other, lest we appeared too clean for others to want to throw colour on us.
It must have been only 8.00am when things began to quickly and unexpectedly intensify. I remember seeing a large crowd of coloured devotees coming out of a temple and shouting praises, and as they passed, they threw colour all over us. The onslaught began, and much like Jesus struggling through the narrow lanes of Jerusalem with the crowd all around him, we walked towards our colourful calvary. I put a scarf over my head to protect my eyes, but its effect was to attract more attention and, more colour. As we walked down the streets, children had filled buckets of coloured water and waited for us to pass so they could drench us from the terraces. Pichikaris (waterguns) were squirted from all directions, their owners seemingly innocent and playful. Men would not just throw colour on me, but smear my entire face with it as though attempting an express facial. There was colour in my eyes, my nostrils, my mouth and my ears. We entered the famous Banke Bihari temple, and through the clouds of colourful dust, paid our respects to the famous statue of Radha Krishna (Radha is Krishna’s consort, and he is rarely mentioned without her name being attached to his). As the morning wore on, and I became weary from all the drenching, I began ducking or covering my face so as to protect it from the cheerful and rowdy crowds. I soon realised that this actually encouraged them to target me even more, and they would smear me apologetically and uncontrollably, exclaiming ‘Bura na mano, Holi hai’ (don’t mind, it’s Holi). There were multiple and spontaneous outbursts of crowds dancing and cheering to the sound of colorful drummers and I was pulled in by the sheer joy of it all. Finally exhausted at 9.30am, I begged my friends to retire, as I, being a female, was far more drenched and coloured than what they were. We returned to the hotel and I jumped into the shower, washing my hair with shampoo at least three times before the water ran clear. Once we were cleaned up, we went out for a traditional and festive breakfast.
The meaning and significance behind Holi
Holi is probably the most fun of Indian festivals, that is if you don’t mind being bejewelled with a multitude of colours and squirted with water guns by friends and strangers alike. It is celebrated with more fervour in the North than compared with the South. Frivolities aside, its significance is more cultural than it is religious. The festival signifies the following:
The triumph of good over evil: The legend behind Holi is centered around the character Prahalad - the son of demon king Hiranyakashyap. This King considered himself to be ruler of the Universe and above all Gods because he was given a special boon, one which prevented him from dying an earthly death, except for in very unlikely circumstances. His son was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and when his Father asked him, “Who is the greatest, God or I?”, he responded with piety “God is, you are only a King”. This response infuriated the King who decided he would have to kill his own son and subjected him to many forms of torture, all of which Prahalad survived. Hiranyakashyap had a demon sister called Holika, and he asked her to sit in a pyre of fire wearing a special cloak, that would not allow her to burn. He then told his son Prahalad to sit with his aunt in the fire. The cloak worn by Holika fell on to Prahalad, and he survived the fire whilst his aunt burned. This is why, on the eve of Holi, a huge bonfire is lit and Holika’s effigy is burned.
The greatest of equalisers: Regardless of your age, gender, caste, class, culture or creed, you can play Holi with anyone and everyone. The traditional boundaries that divide communities and people are suspended during Holi to ensure no one misses out on the fun (unless of course you stay indoors).
- The beginning of Spring: Holi is celebrated just as winters quickly fade into the warmer spring season. The colours of Holi represent the brightness, warmth and joy brought on by the advent of Spring. It is always celebrated the day after the full moon.
As with all festivals, comes an array of specialities and delights enjoyed during this time. They vary depending on which part of India you are celebrating an below are a few of the Holi classics.
Bhaang - The local name for marijuana and the natural drug associated with Lord Shiva, bhaang is enjoyed on this festive day in various forms. It is added to milky drinks such as Lassi, as well as to deep-fried snacks (such as pakoras, which you can make yourself using our Pakora spice blend).
Thandai - A chilled, sweetened and spiced milk drink which is sipped on by kids as they refuel between Holi games. The additions of dried fruits and nuts make Thandai a great energiser. Bhaang can also be added to this drink to get into the Holi spirit.
- Gujiya - A deep fried pastry which encases a soft and sweet mixture of dried milk and dried fruits. There are many variations of Gujiyas across India, depending on which region you are in.
Happy Holi everyone!
By Conchita de Souza
The concept of adding spices to sweet dishes, is traditional as it is delicious. You can take an ordinary banana bread to new heights by just adding a dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg powders. A sprinkle of dried ginger or the addition of cloves into puddings or cakes add an extra element of undeniably tasty goodness. Have you ever tried chilli hot chocolate - a remedial concoction invented by the Mayans of ancient Mexico? In India, two spices dominate the sugary realm of sweets and desserts and add an extra dimension of flavour, with the subtle release of their aromas.
By Conchita de Souza
This Christmas why not change your traditional menu for something a little more, let’s say, Indian? The richness of certain Indian dishes perfectly encapsulate that Christmas Day feeling of a belly full of food cooked with love.
If going all-out Indian this Christmas is a bit overwhelming, you can always choose to replace your traditional Christmas menu with one or two dishes that are Indian. You are the chef, so you decide!
By Claudette D'Cruz
The Signs of Festivities
As a child growing up, you would be familiar with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells that certain festivals bring. Whether it be sound of popping champagne on New Years Eve or the smell of turkey roasting in the oven on Christmas Day - each celebration was a feast for our sensory organs. Heck, even the smell of grandma’s gloriously decadent butter cake baking in the oven prompted aggressive rumbles from the awakened beast that our stomachs can be. For a child growing up in an Indian household, the smell of Biryani wafting through the house was enough to get my nose on a high! I suddenly resembled my dog, sniffing the air in a most thorough manner so as to consume the delightful aromas passing by. My father prepared biryani only for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries - partly because it can be quite time-consuming if made the traditional way, but also because he wanted to honour the dish’s celebratory purpose.
When examining the historical accounts pertaining to this delightful dish, one realises that it cannot be accurately traced back to a single point of origin. The Persian word ‘birian’ means ‘fried before cooking’, and hence ‘biriyani’ is said to have originated as a Persian dish. The Mughal invaders originating from Turkey, Persia and Arabia were said to have brought the ‘feast-like’ culture to India, including the acclaimed variations of biryani. Another tale tells of Mumtaz Mahal, the queen of Shah Jahan and the reason for the majestic Taj Mahal’s existence, who upon visiting the army barracks, noticed that the Mughal soldiers appeared weak and under-nourished. She advised the chef to prepare something more filling, that would meet the nutrition requirements of their protectors - and so he made biryani. With such varied accounts, it is hard to pinpoint when, where and how this celebrated dish originated. Needless to say, I certainly appreciate the respected chefs of our ancestors for coming up with this culinary creation. Mine and your tastebuds are blessed to have savoured the deliciousness that is biryani.
Layers of Joy
For those of you who may not be entirely familiar with the contents of a biryani, rest assured, I have you covered in this section. There is no one such recipe for biryani; it can be made with a variety of spices, proteins and even vegetables. One essential ingredient is rice - which forms the base of the dish. Spices are then combined with specific proteins such as seafood, chicken and mutton or with vegetables to create a flavoursome mix to add to the rice. If you want to know more about the variations and styles of biryani, and get more of a historical perspective, have a read of this article from The Better India.
My dad prepares biryani as an act of labourious love. He starts by marinating the meat with spices and yoghurt overnight. The next day he makes the plain rice, often cooked with spices like cardamon and clove to give it a most beautiful fragrance. As a garnish, he fries in ghee (clarified butter, or better put, liquified and tasty gold) raisins and then onions. Then he slow-cooks the meat with more onions and spices until a thick gravy is formed. It then becomes a matter of assembling; he will line the base with rice, then meat, then rice and then meat and repeat this process until the pot is filled. Lastly, he adds the garnish of raisins and onion and ends up with a finished product like you see in the image below. Biryani is often accompanied with raita - a fresh yoghurt dish that has some subtle spices and raw tomatoes, onions and cucumber finely chopped and added to it. All in all, it may have taken my dad two days to prepare this dish, but I devoured my plate in under five minutes. Fortunately, biryani is made in large quantities, and so you can have left-overs for dinner the next night, or for lunch, hey, maybe even breakfast (no shame folks, no shame).
Call to Action
I do not apologise if this post has prompted ceaseless salivating. Indeed it has had this effect on the writer, who is now wiping the corners of her mouth before anyone passes by and wonders exactly what on earth she is doing salivating with no food in sight. However, I may have an appropriate panacea to your craving. I exhort you to either:
- Jump on the next immediate plane to the Indian subcontinent and go on a biryani crawl in order to experience the variations of this dish. That would mean Kashmiri biryani from the north right down to Kerala-style biryani in the south. You may want to consider taking three to four months of leave before you do this.
- If No. 1 isn’t feasible, then head to your nearest Indian restaurant to order biryani.
- If you’re feeling a little more creative than what No.2 requires you to do, or have family members and/or friends with food intolerances, why not make this magical dish yourself? No Worries Curries can help you out with their mix of naturally blended spices to make a mean Chicken Biryani (or an equally mean vegetarian variation) that will have your family, friends, guests or neighbours begging for more.
Now what was I doing before writing this? Ah, yes. Eating biryani.