London’s population might be a mix of genders, religions, casts and creeds, but we are united in an almost-universal love for any excuse to eat, drink and make merry. Diwali offers the chance to do those very things – and, with the Hindu festival involving music, fireworks, food, drink and an epic battle between good and evil, it’s little wonder that the city has taken it to heart.
This year, the festival falls on 30 October; giving you just enough time to plot a lot of merrymaking with my illuminating guide to celebrating the Festival of Lights without leaving London.
Celebrate here: Diwali on Trafalgar Square (16 Oct)
Trafalgar Square always attracts a multi-culti crowd, and never more so than during the Mayor’s cultural celebrations. This free free-for-all boasts a lively live entertainment programme, arts and crafts workshops, and an array of food stalls to feed in excess of 20,000 revellers. Expect long queues, chaos, colour, and a damn good day out.
- Diwali on the Square takes place from 1-7pm on 16 October on Trafalgar Square. For more information, click here
Eat here: Diwali Lamb Feast at Gunpowder (19 Oct)
Newly-awarded a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin men (and women), Gunpowder is a sure shot for a fine feast. Wednesday 19 October sees Harneet Baweja and Nirmal Save hitting the kitchen to create a Diwali banquet from a whole lamb, with dishes including masala and whiskey bone marrow, bheja fry, and signature Kashmiri lamb chops. Expect spaces to sell like hot jalebis.
- Gunpowder’s Diwali feast costs £35pp, with sittings at 6.30 and 8.30pm on 19 October. For more information and to book, click here
Party hearty here: Dishoom’s Diwali Festival (23 Oct)
If you’re into Indian music you’ll be in your element with the much-adored Irani cafe’s Diwali do. Grooving to Shammi Pithia, Sabiyha Rasheed, Vibs Bhatia and Vikaash Sankadecha, and Alisha Kadir is guaranteed to get you good and hungry, so you’ll be pleased to know that Desi street food will be a frontline feature. As ever, the occasion is a family affair; whilst the kids paint the town red (and paint the floor with a giant rangoli), the not-so-little can stand by and sip chai, scoff mithai, and generally indulge in grown-up gupshup.
Dishoom’s Diwali Festival takes place from 3.30-8pm on 23 October at West Handyside Canopy in Kings Cross. For more information, click here
Do this: Cooking With Monisha’s Festive Food Walk (29 Oct)
You’re in safe hands with esteemed cookery writer and teacher Monisha Bharadwaj, who leads you on a merry march around the predominantly Punjabi neighbourhood of Southall in search of eats’n’treats. Encompassing tastings in mithai marts and snack shacks, ingredient shopping in local supermarkets, and an informed introduction to all kinds of festive traditions, this walk offers sustenance for mind, body and soul.
- Monisha Bharadwaj’s Diwali Food Walk costs £16.52 pp and takes place from 2-4pm on 29 October. For more information and to book, click here
Drink here: Talli Joe
There are few who don’t like to get a touch talli on high days and holidays, and the cocktails at Sameer Taneja’s Shaftesbury Avenue eaterie are the perfect tipples to get you tipsy. You’re liable to imbibe a fair few of these highly-quaffable libations; so order a handful of ‘half plates’ with those ‘full drinks’ to ensure your dignity remains intact.
NORTH INDIA Day in Delhi Aged rum, lentil & rice syrup, biryani oil, lime, salt
SOUTH INDIA Amma’s Special Gin, cucumber, coriander, lime, sugar
EAST INDIA Paan Aam Tequila, betel leaf, raw mango puree, lime
WEST INDIA Talli Ho Whisky, beer syrup, orange bitters, lime, soda
OFF THE SAUCE? Try turmeric & saffron, rose, kawah, or betel leaf infused tonic waters
- Talli Joe, 152-156 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8HL. For more information and to book, click here
Gift these: Devnaa’s Diwali chocolates
Few can refuse Devnaa’s funky fusion of classic Indian mithai and European chocolate, especially on festive occasions. This year, Gujarati brother and sister duo Jay and Roopa Rawal are offering limited-edition gift boxes filled with toasted sesame seed-coated milk chocolate truffles which were inspired from their mum’s recipe for a sweet called tal sankri. With sesame seeds somewhat of a superfood, you can almost convince yourself they’re a health food…
- Devnaa’s limited-edition sesame milk chocolate truffles cost £7.95 for a box of eight. For more information and to order, click here
Colour these: The Playful Indian Rangoli patterns
You only have to browse a bookshop to know that colouring books are no longer just for kids. Whether you’re the type to stay firmly inside the lines or colour outside them, Dina Thanki’s pretty patterns will brighten up your day and your Diwali.
- The Playful Indian’s rangoli colouring sheets cost £6 for eight designs. For more information and to order, click here
Cook this: Stuffed lamb kofta in saffron gravy
Chef Ashish Bhatia’s recipe comes straight from India’s ancient Royal Courts to your modern kitchen
For the kofta:
- 20 aloo Bukhara (dried plums), pitted
- 1kg finely-minced lamb
- 1 tbsp chopped ginger
- ½ tbsp chopped green chillies
- 1 tbsp chopped coriander
- 1 tbsp chopped mint
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
- salt, to taste
For the gravy:
- 50ml cooking oil
- 25ml ghee
- 4 whole Kashmiri red chillies
- 4 cloves
- 4 green cardamoms
- 2 whole mace
- 40g pureed garlic
- 25g pureed ginger
- 4 green chillies, chopped
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- salt, to taste
- 200g onions – sliced, boiled until soft, and pureed)
- 50g almonds, ground to a paste
- 200ml yoghurt
- 500ml water
- ½ tsp saffron threads, soaked in a little warm water
- 75ml single cream
To garnish and serve:
- toasted flaked almonds
- freshly chopped coriander
- single cream
- hot parathas
- Refresh the pitted plums in hot water for 6-8 minutes, then drain.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the mince, ginger, green chillies, coriander, mint, turmeric, chilli powder and salt. Mix well and divide into 20 evenly-sized meatballs.
- Flatten each meatball and place a plum in the centre. Reshape into balls (damp hands makes this easier), then return to the bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Heat the oil and ghee in a large, deep saucepan set over medium heat. Add the whole red chillies, cloves, cardamom and mace, followed by the ginger and garlic purees, and cook for 5-7 minutes.
- Add the chopped green chillies, all the ground spices and salt, and cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Add the boiled onion puree and cook for 8 -10 minutes, until you see the oil starting to separate out. Stir in the almond paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Reduce the heat to minimum and add the yoghurt, stirring continuously to avoid the yoghurt splitting. Increase heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and cook over a low heat until the gravy is reduced by half.
- Carefully add the meatballs, cover, and cook on low heat for a further 10 minutes. Once cooked, gently remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon.
- Add the saffron and its liquid and the cream to the gravy and cook for 2 minutes over a medium heat.
- Transfer the meatballs to a warmed serving dish and spoon the gravy over and around them.
- Serve hot, garnished with toasted flaked almonds, coriander, and a drizzle of cream, accompanied by hot parathas.
- Recipe courtesy of Chef Ashish Bhatia
- To read my interview with Harneet Baweja for Good Things magazine, click here
- To read my review of Talli Joe’s Pauwa-Chakhna menu, click here
- To read about an Ayurvedic spice workshop with Monisha Bharadwai, click here
- For my guide to Indian sweets, click here
- For more on India-inspired chocolatiers, click here
- For Ashish Bhatia’s Pondicherry seafood curry recipe, click here
Recipe image by Alice Griffiths; first published in Good Things magazine