Mithai - the Joy of Festivities
With the festive season around the corner, parts of India are already preparing for Janmashtami - the Hindu festival celebrating the birth of lord Krishna.
While this year, celebrations might be more home-bound and in-spirit, the auspicious prasada must not be missed - traditional sweets first offered to god, and then distributed amongst family members as blessings.
A delectable spread of laddoos, petha, panjiri and ghewar are customary offerings on Janmashtami. Join us as we celebrate traditional Indian sweets that have delighted us through generations, along with a selection of more contemporary, healthier choices! Each of these is best enjoyed with a generous dose of cheer and nostalgia!
Sandesh & Cham Cham
Famed for their sweet tooth, people of Bengal have always been connoisseurs of variety and flavour when it comes to mithai. Amongst their most popular, mouth-watering sweets are Sandesh, Cham Cham
Sandesh, literally translating to “a message”, got its name from the traditional Indian practice of sending boxes of sweets as gifts, to friends and family. The more serendipitous version of Bengal’s favourite sweetmeat came from an 18th century milkman who was left with curdled, unsold milk. He would strain the curdled milk, mix some molasses, which was widely available in the hinterlands of Bengal, resulting in a paste called makha, the prelude to today’s Sandesh.
The Portuguese introduced the concept of cheese-based sweets to us which encompassed ‘chhena’, the key ingredient of Sandesh. Other versions of cheese-based Indian mithai include Chamcham, a simple combination of cottage cheese, sugar and water, and the ever popular Rasgulla, another renowned Bengali specialty, made with boiled milk and dipped in sugar syrup.
As you bite into the soft centre of these mithais, and their familiar sweetness oozes into your mouth, it’s strangely fulfilling. For some, it’s the feeling of coming home.
Dates and Baklava
Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East for thousands of years. Considered the "fruit of heaven" in Emirati culture, dates have traditionally been known to provide sustenance to the people of the desert.
During Ramadan, a date is the first food to pass one’s lips, after the sun goes down. Dates are generally accompanied by another delicacy, Baklava, the iconic crispy puff pastry steeped in centuries-old history. The Greek Baklava is traditionally made with thirty-three layers of dough, each of which represents a year of the life of Christ.
As cultural peripheries blur, middle eastern delicacies like Dates and Baklava have found their way into gift boxes, invites and dinner tables in India. Loaded with nutritional benefits, dates are a great alternative to traditional Indian sweets for more mindful eaters and along with Baklava, add a contemporary twist to festive spreads.
If you’re looking to gift your loved ones a gourmet version of regular dates, look for Date Burfis or stuffed Medjool Dates that have an amber-hued flesh and a chewy and moist texture.
Laddoos of all varieties are the mainstay of traditional festive treats that have been relished across India. They permeate every
celebration and herald good news - weddings, festivals, just the simple joy of achieving good grades or even being offered at temples on auspicious occasions!
Considered the “king of Indian sweets”, the quintessential Motichoor laddoo is an age-old household favourite! A combination of two words - ‘moti’ meaning pearls, and ‘choor’ meaning powdered - this saffron-hued laddoo also happens to be lord Ganesha’s favourite sweet and is commonly distributed on Ganesh Chaturthi.
Originally, a favorite of the Marwari community, delectable Motichoor laddoos were made at home by Rajasthani women, weeks before Diwali, in anticipation of festive gifting and feasts. As Marwari business families assimilated in different parts of India, boondi laddoos were absorbed by most culinary cultures.
As we get more mindful of the calories in our mithais, gourmet sweet brands are introducing contemporary variants of traditional Indian sweets, made with natural ingredients and sweeteners, like the delicious Pink Coconut Laddoo from Khoya Mithai and Gur Chini’s gourmet Wild Rose Petal Gulkand Laddoo, perfect for a diversified dessert spread and evolved palates.
A savan (monsoon) special, Ghewar
is fondly known as the ‘Pride of Rajasthan’. Savoured during festivals like Teej, Makar Sankranti, and Raksha Bandhan, the most prominent characteristic of this traditional sweet is its round shape and honeycomb texture, hinting to the sweetness that lies within. As per customary rituals of Teej, Ghevar is sent as a gift, by the parents of newly married daughters, as a blessing for her long and happy married life.
Traditional sweet shops of Rajasthan take pride in mastering the unique technique of preparing the perfectly crisp yet porous Ghewar.
After being deep-fried to perfection, the dessert is drenched with sugar syrup, and is typically garnished with thickened milk (rabri), silver varak and chopped nuts such as almonds or pistachios for additional flavour and crunch!
A curation of India’s sweets would be incomplete without Mathura’s famed Pedas. Found in every local sweet shop in Mathura the simple and humble Peda is the choice of sweet during Krishna Janmashtami festivities. Prepared with just a handful of ingredients - khoya, milk and sugar and enhanced with
traditional flavourings of cardamom and saffron - the comforting creaminess of pedas makes them a favourite amongst the young and old alike.
Here’s hoping this season of festivities will be as joyous and auspicious as the years that have passed.