A truly epic Diwali, part 1

Dina Thank Wild Clove Lakshmi Diwali card

Lakshmi Diwali card by Wild Clove

So, you could read the legendary Hindu epic, the Ramayana, or you could read this;

“Lord Rama was exiled to the forest, accompanied by his loyal servant Hanuman and his lady-love, Sita. But nefarious  demon king Ravan wanted Sita for himself and slyly stole her away. A bitter, lengthy battle ensued, and, who knew, goodness prevailed. The couple returned, blissfully happy and triumphant, to rule the kingdom.

“Their loyal subjects put on a royal welcome; lighting rows of oil lamps or ‘diyas’ to direct the duo safely; setting off a frenzy of fireworks and firecrackers.”

And, as festivals go, Diwali’s a cracker – celebrating good over evil and the power of Atman, the inner light. Traditions over the five holy days include gambling, buying new clothes, and eating plenty of the deep-fried foods which make ample use of the magical oil that fuelled the fire of those legendary diyas.

Sound like the sort of celebration that’s sure to light your fire? Fan the flames by going heavy on the festivities that celebrate light.  I present to you the most decadent Diwali, delivered over two blogposts so as not to overwhelm. This week, discover these events and edible gifts; the following one, it’s all about restaurants and recipes. Tuck in!

Family activities

Dishoom rangoli Diwali

Dishoom storytelling

As with any Indian festive occasion, Dishoom’s the definitive destination this Diwali. Both the Covent Garden and Shoreditch branches will be hosting their usual offbeat treats. Be spellbound by storytelling from the effervescent Vayu Naidu, turn the pavement into a rainbow with rangoli, and alight your gaze on enough chai and mithai to feed an entire extended Indian family (or at least an army).

Diwali on the Square

London’s annual Diwali on the Square has one big thing in its favour from the off – the rather charming acronym ‘DOTS’! Head to Trafalgar Square on Sunday 27th for a day as jam-packed with food and frolicks as the Square itself. Check out chaat from Horn OK Please, but please don’t wait til you’re rumbly-tummied til you get in line, as queues can get pretty lengthy. When darkness falls, stay put and light up the night with music and performances from big Bollypop names.

Kathak dancers

Shared City Family Kathak session

Dance up a storm with your little darlings at Shared City’s half-term workshop. The organisation curates cultural activities, celebrating all of London’s communities. Co-ordinate your calendar and your body and make a date with Mukti Shree, who will educate you on Hindu culture through music and movement as she attempts to teach you the basics of traditional Kathak dance. Think you’ve mastered the art? Put your new-skills to the test in a full dance routine, then reward your efforts with some tasty treats.

 Monisha Bharadwaj’s Southall food walk

Esteemed cookbook author and cookery teacher Monisha Bharadwaj conducts herself in such an elegant manner she’s more likely to be gliding than merely walking. Her legendary food walks of the vibrant Indian neighbourhood of Southall are worth the trek at any time of year; but never more so than Diwali, when the colourful streets dial the brightness up to brilliant. At this time of year, the air is filled with a sense of celebration and the scent of samosas. Tripping the light fantastic (or at least plodding along) with Monisha will ensure your visit is filled with treats both tongue- and spine-tingling.

BAPS temple Diwali

BAPS temple

The Swaminarayan temple in Neasden came over piece by piece from India, and it’s no overstatement to say you’ll go to pieces the first time you clap eyes on it. A visit to the amazing building is an awe-inspiring activity at any time of year; but on festive occasions the marble marvel is  all the more magical.

The temple celebrations are the largest in the country, with the chance to take darshan (view the icons), perform puja, or just soak up the crackling atmosphere and feast on some cracking snacks like stuff from on-site deli, Shayona. Work it all off by working your way to the splendid fireworks from 8pm.

Tara Arts presents ‘Sita’s Story’

Jatinder Verma and Claudia Mayer’s re-telling of the traditional tale simplifies the saga for children, particularly aimed at 5-11 year-olds. The lively performance is packed with props like scarves and masks; and quite literally makes a big song and dance of the Diwali story. There are two sittings – 11am – 1pm and 2pm -4pm, with a discount for residents of Tower Hamlets

Kitchen Clinic Sutra Kitchen modern mithai class

The Kitchen Clinic’s ‘Modern Mithai’ class

Jay and Sonali Morjaria were recently garlanded amongst the Top 100 Asian Power Couples. They also have to be in the running for one of the nicest, and most hardworking. The Kitchen Clinic is an offshoot of their Carnaby cookery school, Sutra Kitchen, providing a programme of pop-ups. For Diwali, Jay’s typical offbeat approach modernises mithai mainstays.

In the masterclass, you’ll learn to make Kit Kat burfi, vanilla-rose penda and chocolate Bounty truffles, not to mention spoil your appetite feasting on the spoils. Treat the kids to something less likely to have them bouncing off the walls with a Diwali Art Class, where they’ll create a mithai box, a rangoli and a candle-holder. The space will also hold London’s first pop-up Diwali shop, open from 30th October – 2nd November.

Diwali Chai Party by Bloggers’ Buzz

The self-styled ‘platform for like-minded people to come together to share their passion for food’ presents that always-welcome dual opportunity to indulge in both chat and chaat. The afternoon tea will feature a fusion food menu – including chutney sandwiches and beef cutlets;  nankhatai and gajar halwa, all washed down with lashings of tea. Don’t munch so many Desi-style macaroons that you resemble a piñata, or you’ll be too full for the festivities – games, entertainment and Bollywood jiving.

Bhakti Vedanta manor Diwali

ISKCON Bhakti Vedanta Manor

The Hare Krishna manor near Watford is the ideal rural idyll for those looking to have a heavenly Diwali on earth. The extensive grounds comprise allotments, a lake, cattle sheds for the resident holy herd, and even an on-site bakery open to the public. Refined dance and drama performances define and disseminate the divine traditions, and free food (prashad) is distributed to all-comers.

The sweet-toothed might like to stay on until Monday evening, when the ‘Annakuta’ custom sees a formidable mountain constructed entirely from home-made mithai offered to the deities, then demolished and distributed to the devout. The hill of prasad passed out in the evening, after everyone’s had ample opportunity to feast their eyes on the super sight.

Urban Woot Bollywood Halloween supperclub

Since Halloween and Diwali almost coincide, Urban Woot is letting ‘em collide in a frightening riot of Bollywood horror’n’biryani.  Schlocky video nasties are big business in the subcontinent, and are every bit as entertaining as the Rocky Horror Picture Show. In addition to a frightening film, there’s a quiz… and the gory glories of chocolate samosa with graveyard soil and body parts in blood jelly.

If things get too hairy, hide behind a piled plate of papdi chaat, or a heaping helping of Kadiri’s legendary biryani, served right with raita like it oughta be, voted by my friend Poornima as the best London has to offer on her Biryani Quest blog. Fancy dress is both requested and expected.


Spice Kitchen dabba

Spice Kitchen spice tins

A shiny silver dabba is the perfect – and very practical – alternative to the ubiquitous Diwali selection box stuffed with sugary mithai or rather-too-dryfruits. Spice Kitchen’s comes filled with a selection of 10 of their own spices, including carefully-nurtured curry leaves grown on British soil and signature hand-blended, freshly-ground garam masala.

Birmingham-based, Kenya-born Shashi  Aggarwal and son Sanjay lovingly pack each tin and wrap it in a unique, handmade silk cover, barely containing the bursting aromas. For a gift that keeps on giving, purchase an annual membership, providing the lucky recipient with the tin plus bi-monthly deliveries of spice refills plus a different ‘secret spice’ each time.

Tamarind Tots Diwali app

It’s not always easy to get kids engaged with traditions, even one as fabuloustastic as Diwali. Add cute characters, bright colours and the chance to play with gadgets to your arsenal, and you’re fighting a winning battle. Check out Tamarind Tots’ Diwali app, which lets little and big kids both learn the story and some Hindi, colour and light up a rangoli, explore the puja… and even let off virtual firecrackers with far less mess.

Devnaa Diwali chocolate mithai box

Devnaa’s chocolate mithai gift range and cookbook

I love chocolate… but then I also love mithai. So which is better? Brother-and-sister team Jay and Roopa Rawal have rendered the decision obsolete with Devnaa’s fabulous fusion bonbons, bringing the best of both worlds to the festive table (and the desk drawer, for that matter). Chocolate cloaks chai caramels and bedecks burfis of various flavours.

Forget sub-standard, stale supermarket sweetmeats – these mithai give new meaning to ‘melt-in-the-mouth’.  The entire Diwali range comes complete with a giftcard, from the simplest sharing set to the marvellous mega-hamper. For loved ones lacking a sweet tooth – or avoiding indulgence – the new ‘Devnaa’s India’ cookbook features a feast of Gujarati home fare ideal for Diwali dinners.

Tesco festive food products

Love or loathe, there’s no doubt that, out of the major multiples, the retailer has the ‘Desi delicacies’ market sewn up pretty tight. In culturally-diverse neighbourhoods, stores stock a vast range of products from brands large and small – Kohinoor rice, MDH masalas, Larich’s Sri Lankan pickles.

Around festive occasions, the offer expands still further; and now they’re even come out with an own-brand line of Diwali delights. The Finest* Make Your Own Barfi kit is the Indian answer to the Christmas DIY truffle set, containing all you need to knock out a dozen choc-dunked coconut barfi balls. Rose, mango and kesar syrups, meanwhile, are perfect for adding a flavoursome twist to home-made mithai, or concocting delicious Diwali decoctions.

  • Tesco’s Diwali products are available in various stores. For more information and a store finder, visit www.tesco.com

Dina Thanki Wild Clove Diwali cards

Wild Clove Diwali greetings cards
Wild Clove’s cartoon samosa tote rarely leaves my shoulder – unless it’s snatched by a friend demanding to know where to order her distinctive doodles. For Diwali, the designer diva Dina’s created a range of cute cards featuring hand-drawn diyas, a good-humoured Ganesh and, of course, lovely Lakshmi, goddess of good fortune (see this post’s opening image). She must be smiling on you, because it’s your good fortune to find out about Miss Thanki’s talent. No need to thank me.

Stay tuned for where and what to eat this Diwali with my guide to restaurants and recipes next week…


10 responses to “A truly epic Diwali, part 1

  1. This is a wonderful list – helpful and evocative of India and Diwali. Lovely. I will keep it open to ponder. Disappointingly, I’m indulging in a long English Sunday lunch on 27th or I’d definitely be in Trafalgar Square. Thanks also for the reminder about the Spice Kitchen; I came across them at a food fair and meant to buy from them soon after; with Christmas (and my Bombay birthday) coming soon I feel an addition to the list is needed. Very nice post.


    • Thanks Joanna! A bit of a labour of love to compile; next up will be a recipe round-up and all the London restaurant happenings. Happily there’s plenty happening all the way up until Diwali on 3rd November, so you should have ample chance to celebrate!


      • Hi Zoe – My mum blends this herself but she does not do measuring, and very much does this by eye, which is a rule she follows for most of her cooking! I recently tried to get her to measure and write down some recipes but this was a challenge as this is not how she has ever cooked.

        I know it contains the fairly typical mix of garam masala spices including (deep breath) coriander seeds, cumin, black peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, cardamon (green & black), nutmeg, bay leaves and sometimes dry ginger. We always use the highest quality and freshest spices we can get hold of and also we roast the spices in the oven on a low heat rather than in a dry pan.

        We also crush the spices by hand with a manual wheat / spice grinder that has been in my family for over 75 years (though I am sure it is over 100 years old). It is great exercise and although I do not think it makes the spices taste any better, it allows us to adjust how coarse they are crushed with ease (and we adjust dependent on what we are crushing). I will send you a picture!

        Sanjay Aggarwal


  2. Pingback: A happy 2013 reflection and a Happy New Year 2014! | The Spice Scribe·

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