- Sukhada Chaudhary
Holi, like many other Indian festivals, accords food a special status in its celebration. While the variety of Holi dishes across the country is immense, The Culture Trip has put together a list of traditional food items that are synonymous with this celebration of colors.
Sweet dumplings made of semolina or flour, gujiyas are an absolute Holi treat. It is known as ‘karanji’ in the northern states of Maharashtra and Karnataka and ‘pedakiya’ in Bihar. The filling of mawa, dry coconut, almonds, and cardamom coupled with the golden crust of the pastry makes for a mouthwatering delight. Very customizable, you can find ones with a sugar coating, or stuffed with dry fruits or even chocolate nowadays!
Often referred to as the Indian subcontinent’s version of ice cream, kulfi is a very popular dessert and a big hit at Holi celebrations, as it provides relief from the heat. Kulfi comes from the Persian word for ‘a covered cup.’ Tracing its origin to the time of the Mughals, kulfi was initially made by packing a mixture of dense evaporated milk, saffron, and pistachios into metal cones and keeping them covered with slurry ice. Today, you will find kulfi vendors who still make it in the traditional way, storing it in a earthenware pot called a matka. A Holi celebration is quite incomplete without a stick of kulfi dripping down your hand!
The thandai has been immortalized by Bollywood in its many Holi songs that, often taking place in situations where the protagonists are intoxicated by the addition of bhaang (hemp) to their drinks. You would not be wrong to consider it as the official Holi drink. The use of bhaang in India dates back to 1000 BC, with it finding mention in the ancient text Atharvaveda. Milk, ghee, and spices provide the base for a thandai, whereas bhaang is prepared by squashing the buds and leaves of the cannabis plant using a mortar and pestle. The paste is then mixed in and the legendary bhaang thandai is prepared. For those who do not favor intoxication, the almond and kesar variants of thandai are amazing alternatives.
It is important to point out that Holi is a festival dedicated to celebrating the agrarian produce, and there’s no better way to celebrate all the elements of this produce than with some delicious chaat. The most popular chaat dishes for Holi are the Dahi Bhalla and the Papri Chaat along with the evergreen Pani Puri. Interestingly, even the history of chaat can be traced back to the Mughals and can be viewed as the result of the interaction between the Ganga-Jamuni and Mughal cultures. Easy to prepare and consume, chaat is the perfect way to whip up a Holi appetite.
Another cold delight, phirni is made with milk and ground rice. Basically a rice pudding, it is garnished with pistachios, cardamom, and almond. Traditionally made in clay bowls called shikoras, the phirni also dates back to the Mughal era, marking a distinct period of time that made milk a very important component of Indian sweets. Don’t forget to add some strands of saffron for delightful aroma and taste.