Thursday, January 17, 2013

India's Tastiest Food Festivals

Two of the finest reasons to visit India at any time of year are for the delicious range of cuisine and the colorful, vibrant festivals. When these two aspects of Indian culture combine in a food festival, this is truly reason enough start searching for cheap flights to India. Although most Indian festivals have some element of food associated with them, the following are particularly notable for their traditional delicacies and convivial atmosphere.

Pongal An annual festival celebrating the harvest and Indra the sun god, Pongal is celebrated over the course of two days in January. Pongal means "boiling over," and during this festival home kitchens boil over with abundance as each day carries its own culinary tradition. On the first day of Pongal, families share a meal of rice with savory chickpea patties called vadai, and sweet pancakes known as boli. On the second day, friends and neighbors are invited to share in the celebrations with large communal meals being prepared. These include a more rice, dal, and a traditional sweet dessert made from cane sugar and ghee.

Durga Puja
Durga Puja doesn't strictly revolve around food, yet feasting plays an important role in the celebrations. This festival honors the mother goddess Shakti and her triumph over evil, and lasts over a week in many parts of the country. Each day of Durga Puja revolves around a large proper meal to share with friends and family, including vegetable curry, dal, rice, various chutneys, and plenty of rice pudding.

Lohri Celebrated each winter in the northern states of India, Lohri celebrates the wheat harvest with roaring bonfires and traditional cuisine. On Lohri Day, children go door to door, singing songs and collecting sweets, sesame seeds, and sugar cane. That evening, popcorn, rice, and other edibles are thrown into massive bonfires as a prayer to the fire god, Agni. A variety of snacks are enjoyed around the bonfire, including peanuts, jaggery, and popcorn. The traditional Lohri meal includes makki-di-roti, a type of hand-rolled bread, and special cooked mustard herbs called sarson-da-saag. This is followed by dancing and merriment.

One of the most famous festivals that many visitors fly over to India to enjoy is Diwali, or the festival of lights. Although like Durga Puja this festival is not strictly about food, there are many traditional treats that are enjoyed during Diwali. This includes a variety of candies and sweets, as well as a special sweet sauce called mandhi.

Vishu Taking place in the state of Kerala in the second week of April, Vishu is an important festival marking the New Year for the Malayalam people. Ritual arrangements of rice, lemons, golden cucumbers, betel leaves, and yellow flowers are set up to be the first thing that families see in the New Year, bringing good luck and prosperity. Feasting is a major part of this festival as well. A traditional Vishu feast must combine equal elements of salty, sweet, bitter, and sour foods. This typically includes a sour mango soup and a bitter herbal concoction made from a tree in the mahogany family called neem.

No matter what time of year it is, you're bound to find a delicious festival taking place somewhere in India!

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