Serving Up the Festive Flavours of Deepavali

KL Stories
Serving Up the Festive Flavours of Deepavali
November 8, 2018

Murukku is the most common snack served during Deepavali, but there are many other delectable foods to indulge in.

For Dr Kanthan Murugiah, 41, the special day starts at breakfast. “A favourite of mine, mutton, is usually served, even at breakfast, with thosai and idly,” he says. His daughter, Deyvina, 8, agrees. “I like my mother’s mutton, because it has so many good flavours. When it comes to snacks, both Kanthan and his son, Nitheesh, 9, choose the achu murukku, a savoury sweet version made with flour, sugar and spices.

“The smell of biryani steaming is the most celebratory thing ever,” says Priya Narayanan, 35, from Bangsar, who looks forward to her mother’s signature biryani, which is a mix of Mughlai and Malayali styles.

“This smell - of saffron, rose and orange-scented rice cooking in the juices of the meat it envelops - is one that is always accompanied by the row of lights in my head.”

She also looks forward to mathis, which are crisp wheat crackers fried in ghee, studded with fennel seeds and black peppercorns, creating explosions of flavour with every bite.

Sweet treats for everyone

For Popo Brar, 50, it’s all about the sweets. “We did not have a lot of sweet dishes growing up. They were reserved for special occasions. So we looked forward to Diwali to have them,” Popo recalls. She loves gulab jamun, which are ball-shaped dumplings made by combining milk powder, a little flour, ghee and yoghurt.

They are then fried in ghee until golden brown, before being simmered in cardamom- scented sugar syrup for a few minutes, then allowed to rest for an hour before serving.

Popo now makes the same treats from her childhood for her own family and friends. She learnt from the elders in her family, including her aunt Anant Singh, who runs the popular Jasmin Restaurant in Adelaide, Australia.

Popo also has a business selling Indian desserts called Popolicious, which gets particularly busy during the festive period.  “The star of the menu is the coconut candy, and I have also added almond barfi this year,” she says. 

Asha Raj, 27, also singles out coconut candy as the highlight amongst Deepavali treats. The squares of crumbly goodness were so popular in her house that her parents resorted to making the candy only after the children had gone to sleep.

Then they would hide them to avoid it all being devoured before Deepavali day arrived. “But the sweet smell of dry roasted coconut lingers in the house for some time, so we immediately knew, and we would go on a treasure hunt all around the kitchen to look for it.

Coconut candy is made from freshly grated coconut. Then sugar and condensed milk is mixed in. Some recipes add evaporated milk, a dollop of butter or rose water too. The mixture then has to be stirred over a simmering pan over low heat. A lot of upper body strength is needed for the constant stirring, along with patience and delicacy to get it just right. Finally, when the mixture has come together, it can be transferred to a tray, cooled and cut into squares.

Alternatives to homecooked foods

Although homemade is always best, Priya recommends the biryani at Qureishi Restaurant at TPC Kuala Lumpur (formerly known as the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, KLGCC) as a good substitute.

Popo and Asha both go to Jai Hind in KL’s Masjid India area for sweets, if they cannot make the desserts themselves. “Their laddu, made from chickpea flour, sugar and ghee, is amazing. I served them at my wedding,” Asha shares.  

In Penang, Kanthan suggests going to Thulasiraman and NR Sweets in Georgetown’s Little India. For everyone, Deepavali is a chance for family and friends to gather, renew ties and rejoice together.

“The special thing is the families getting together to celebrate,” opines Kanthan. “During our kampung days, all the aunts will get together and the whole kitchen becomes a production place.