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Culture Guide

Delicious dishes we love for Holi

09 March 2022

Celebrate spring, love and new life during the vibrant festival of Holi.

A spectacular show of colour, joy and worship, the Hindu festival of Holi marks the beginning of spring. With roots in India and Nepal, Hindus around the globe come together to celebrate with friends and family. This revered spring festival starts on the evening of Full Moon Day, also known as Purnima, in the month of Falgun which is the 11th month of the year in the Nepali calendar which typically falls in February or March. 

The boisterous festival is filled with colour, laughter and fantastic food. It’s a time for neighbours and family to soak up the energy of loud music. Then comes the incredible feast with local delicacies and traditional dishes. Celebrations happen all over the world, but the most extravagant are held in the Brijj region of Uttar Pradesh, believed to be Lord Krishna’s childhood home. Here, the festivities can go on for a week or more!

The first night of Holi celebrations

The first day of the festival, known as ‘Holika Dahan’ or ‘Chhoti Holi’, pays homage to one of the legends behind the festival. The story centres around two demon siblings, Hiranyakashipu, who believed himself to be invincible, and his sister Holika. 

The two had plotted to kill Hiranyakashipu’s son, Prahlad for worshipping Vishnu instead of his father. Holika was to take Prahlad into a bonfire under a protective cloak, then remove it once inside. However, his devotion to Vishnu protected him and the cloak flew over Prahlad, covering him instead. 

Symbolising the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, Holi takes its name from the demon Holika. Loved ones gather around bonfires to banish the dark and welcome the light.

Holi street parties and celebrations

On the second day, people take to the streets to throw vibrant coloured powder, paste and water balloons on each other as they dance. This enthusiastic practice honours the god, Krishna. The legend states that he mentioned to his mother he no longer liked his dark blue skin and wanted to match his true love Radha by being fairer. 

His mother suggested he could paint his face any colour he liked. And so he did. Radha enjoyed his practical joke and was still as enamoured as ever. Because of this, Holi is also known as the ‘festival of love’.

The pastes and powders, known as ‘gulal’, have special significance depending on the colours used. Green for spring and new beginnings, blue for Krishna and red is love and matrimony. You’ll often see yellow being flung too, this symbolises turmeric, a flavoursome spice commonly found in Indian food and rituals.

A hearty breakfast to fuel the festivities

With all the running, throwing and dancing, everyone will inevitably hold a hefty appetite and food on the Holi table does not disappoint. In the states of Jharkhand and Bihar, people usually start the day with a good breakfast, giving them lots of energy for the merriment ahead. 

Dhuska is made from rice, dal, garlic and chillies fried together to combine the fragrant flavours. This Holi staple can be accompanied by green chutney, potato curry or ghungi, a black chickpea curry. With bellies filled with mouth-watering food, people are ready to get the party started!

The versatility of gujiya

During Holi there’s often gujiya included in the feast. They are offered to friends and families as a wonderful gift. They are dumplings made using flour, semolina and dry fruits before being deep-fried and dipped in sugar syrup. They are particularly popular in the North and West states of India, but their preparation differs throughout.

In Karanji you’ll find them stuffed with dry fruits like raisins and cashews, nutmeg and cardamom powder. If you were to tuck into some in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, you’d find them with different types of coconut and dry fruits. Tables in Bihar and Jharkhand are adorned with gujiya that are a little different from the rest, the mawa (also known as curd) and semolina filled parcels are still deep-fried in ghee, but not bathed in sugar syrup so ideal if you don’t have too much of a sweet tooth.

The drink of the gods

Glasses are filled with the cooling milk-based drink called thandai, which is exactly what’s needed after a day of partying. Benaras in North India is particularly known for serving up this delicious tipple that comes topped with saffron, nuts and spices. Sometimes you’ll even find it with added bhang which is made from the leaves of a cannabis plant. It’s said that Lord Shiva was first offered this addition to the traditional thandai recipe and made it a popular part of the Holi festival. Ideal for soothing dancing feet.

No matter how you’re celebrating Holi this year, make sure it’s filled with colour, time with loved ones and a bounty of delicious food. We hope you have a fabulous feast and plenty of fun!

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