Celebratory indulgences, just like Holi’s grandiosity, are colourfully delicious. Homes and streets are lined with food spreads that come in all shapes and flavours: bite-sized mithais are on full display at sweet shops; large thalis and tall glasses of thandais are culinary invitations to communal feasts; and crimped ghujias are devoured by hungry onlookers no sooner than they’re served. The scene was almost ritualistic of a pre-pandemic world. But with the virus still looming, most parts of the country have curbed jamborees. Colour splashing and water balloon fights may not be on the cards this year, but that is no reason cancel the festivities. It’s time to turn to food—oftentimes a trusted mood elevator.
We’ve put together a fantastic menu of breakfast picks and elaborate dessert selections from different corners of the country to amp up your spirits this socially-distanced Holi.
This staple breakfast food and evening snack is loved in Jharkhand and Bihar all year round. But its versatility for passing off as an entrée or the main course makes it a popular festive choice. The deep-fried dish is made from powdered rice, channa dal and potatoes, spiced with chilli and garnished with garlic. It is often served with piping hot Bihari mutton curry or a humble potato curry.
This absolute stunner of a dessert believed to have originated in Odisha soon won over the East and the North Indian palates. These pancake-like, shallow fried fritters are drenched in sugar syrup and flavoured by cardamom, khoya or rabdi, dry fruits, saffron and rose petals. With a dish that looks as decadent as it tastes, there is no reason for it to not feature on this festive menu.
There is no better way to beat the heat than to indulge in an invigorating cold drink. Kanji—a fermented beverage made of carrots, mustard and occasionally beetroot—is an icy refreshment served with light urad dal fritters—or vadas. This Holi special, popular in Rajasthan and Gujarat, does not feel heavy on the stomach and aids digestion.
The Sindhi roat is mythology served on a plate. The popular Rajasthani sweet flat bread is an ode to the story of Holika dahan that celebrates victory of good over evil. In an attempt to kill her nephew Prahlad, she sat in blazing fire with him and perished despite her boon to escape inferno unscathed, while the boy was saved by Lord Vishnu. The roat—a thick roti—is cooked on an open flame or on a dung cake, and is held together by raw cotton strings that remain untouched by the fire. They do not burn or come undone, symbolising the spirit of Prahlad. While the idea of it to ensure children’s immunity is untested, it is definitely worth an experimental meal to sample a taste of Sindh-Marwari cuisine.
Pallar—a not-so-distant cousin of the kanji—is a fermented Gharhwali beverage guzzled by the glasses in Uttrakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The concoction is a healthy blend of buttermilk, ground spices, chillies, mustard and fenugreek seeds. The acidity of the buttermilk and the punch from the tempered spices is a great alternative to thandai and salted lassi.
It may be difficult to point out the origin of the fudge-like mithai given their long-standing history, but there is no doubt that the plethora of varieties under this category are overwhelming. Whenever there is a festival in the northern states, there is a barfi ready for doorstep greetings. From Uttrakhand’s Bal mithai to Punjab’s Doda barfi—halwais offer a variant of flavours to pick from. No matter the occasion, one can never go wrong with these classic Indian confectioneries—made using condensed milk, khoya, and ghee.
Street food markets are widely popular all the way from Uttar Pradesh to Punjab. With ready to eat lip-smacking chaats at every turn, it comes as no surprise that scrumptious street food like channa masala, pani puri, papri chaat, kachoris and tea snacks such as namak pare found all over North India become customary Holi snacks. Tangy and spicy masalas, refreshing curd and crunchy goodness that make up dissolute bites of raj kachori are simple yet irresistible indulgences.
Bhang’s association with Holi goes back to the story of Parvati seeking Kamadeva’s assistance to bring Shiva back to the world from a meditative state. His return was celebrated by consuming bhang on Holi. Pakoras and ghujias—two traditional festive accompaniments, with the best in Varanasi—are a combination of sweet and savoury nibbles that get a sacred twist with 10 grams of bhang seed powder. Traditionally, these snacks are great accompaniments to kanji or jaljeera.
Another hidden star of the celebratory treats—poornam boorelu, also known as poornalu—is a traditional dessert of Andhra Pradesh. These fried rice and lentil dumplings stuffed with a coconut, jaggery, dry fruit and cardamom mixture are melt-in-the-mouth decadent. A bite of this sweet is evident of the knockout punch that this recipe packs, and its accompaniment to all meals furthers its versatility.
This traditional Carnatic dish, often consumed as an extravagant Sunday meal, is a sweet paratha stuffed with an aromatic concoction of jaggery, dry fruits, lentils, nutmeg and cardamom. Obbattu uses all-purpose flour and oil for the dough as opposed to the Maharashtrian puran poli that is made with whole wheat flour. Perfect for any meal from breakfast to dinner, this flatbread laden with ghee, is good enough to be devoured on its own, but it also tastes well with mango pachadi, katachi amti. Its flavours are the easiest way to feel the festive frenzy, or just the warm comfort of your home.
Muskaan Gupta travels with a camera that doesn't fret to capture touristy pictures and believes visiting local markets is the best way to unearth a city's gems and jewels. She is Junior Writer (Native Content) at National Geographic Traveller India.