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Food and Drink: Special Occasion Foods

Durga Puja

Durga Puja is a major 5- to 10-day Indian holiday that celebrates the many-armed warrior goddess Durga. In commemoration of Durga’s defeat of evil during a 10-day battle, devotees fast for nine days and hold a festival on the day of victory, Vijayadashami. The ritual fasting is broken daily with a large Bengali-style meal called a bhog. Temporary veneration sites called pandals are built to celebrate Durga and make the offering of bhog that is later distributed to worshippers; it is considered a great honor to eat food that was offered to Durga. The bhog is typically served individually on a large platter and includes rice, lentils, mixed vegetable sides, kheer (rice pudding), chutney, and potatoes.


Holi is known as the festival of colors because it marks the beginning of spring and is celebrated by throwing vibrantly colored rub gulaal—made from flowers, spices, or dyed cornstarch—over celebrants. Holi is celebrated at large festivals and in the home, and treats are abundant in both venues. Many chaat (snacks) are available, especially fried foods, kanji-ke-bade (lentil cakes), and flatbread. Families eat a feast of various regional dishes to celebrate the forthcoming bounty of spring. A popular seasonal dessert is puran poli, a sweet flatbread filled with lentils and fried in jiggery.


Diwali, the festival of lights, is a day of sweets. Indians snack on mithai (sweets) throughout the day, and it is customary to exchange boxes filled with mithai, nuts, and dried fruit with family and friends. Gujiyas (fruit-filled fried dumplings) are a mainstay of the holiday, as are the sweet “Indian doughnut holes” gulab jamun or laddu. An array of milk fudge, including kesar peda and barfi, is also available. Celebrants also enjoy flavorful drinks, such as saffron syrup drinks, thandai (a cold drink made with milk, almonds, rose petals, and seeds), and bhang (a drink prepared with edible cannabis).