Yudhika Sujanani, chef-proprietor of Holi Cow
As a kid, Yudhika and her siblings were always giddy with anticipation in the run-up to Diwali. “Brightly tinted nuts, psychedelic syrups and exotic aromas had us all completely mesmerised,” she reminisces. “We always wore new clothes on Diwali – right down to our socks and shoes. We would stay home one year and visit family and friends the next to exchange sweet hampers.
Almost every home visited would welcome guests with a sweet delicacy to “sweeten” the next year. And the savouries were just heavenly – crisp pakoras served with a range of chutneys and the best samoosas, of course. It’s almost as though every hostess didn’t want you to go to the next stop without being fed and loved!”
These days, Diwali is a doubly sweet celebration for Yudhika, as it happens over her daughter Tanvi’s birthday. “It always falls during the exams, so we tend to have a short but epic celebration before Tanvi and my son Rushill get back to the books.”
Yudhika’s pro tip: “Making banana puri can be daunting – it’s as if this delicacy can feel the fear! The trick is to not give up no matter how awful they look at first. Practice really does make perfect.”
Georgia Pillay, of the blog Food Like Amma Used to Make It
Growing up, exchanging parcels of sweet and savoury treats such as burfee, gulab jamun and samoosas with neighbours was an annual tradition, with her mother filling up her novelty biscuit tins the week before.
“Diwali day was about ceremony as much as it was a celebration. The day began with a bath using three different kinds of oils,” recounts Georgia. “We dressed in new or traditional clothes before delivering parcels to our neighbours around midday. In the evening, we lit clay lamps, then enjoyed a selection of curries with roti or biryani for supper. The festivities concluded with fireworks.” After moving abroad, Georgia revived some of her childhood traditions to introduce them to her son, Kris. “I make my favourite treats annually, to share with those dearest to me.”
Georgia’s pro tip: “The key to perfecting burfee is bringing the sugar syrup to the correct temperature, so that it sets. To test, dip a spoon into the syrup, then allow to cool for a minute. Place your finger on the spoon, then slowly lift. If a thread is visible, you can expect flop-proof burfee.”
Landi Govender of The Tocka Blog
When she was growing up in Durban, Landi would often help her mom, Yvonne, prep in the kitchen up to a week before Diwali, making family favourites including cheesy jalapeño half-moons with mint chutney, mini pizzas topped with sweet peppers in a home-made tikka sauce with paneer, and biryani – always paired with tall glasses of lassi blitzed using seasonal fruit and pistachios.
“On the day, we got dressed up and visited family, sharing everything we had made,” she says. Now that Landi has her own family, there will be sweet treats aplenty for her husband Uveshan, kids Osten and Satara and, most importantly, herself. “I could – and probably have – eaten my body weight in chana magaj, a delicious Indian fudge made with chickpea flour and ghee!”
Landi’s pro tip: “The trick to perfectly shaped jalebis (sweet treats made by deep-frying fermented batter in spirals before soaking in a spiced syrup) is pouring your batter into a squeeze bottle before frying. You’ll get perfectly crispy and even jalebis every time.”
Rev Batohi, general manager of Alchemy Ballito
Cooking for Diwali has always been regarded as a group activity in the Batohi household, says Rev. “It’s like a family cookout – whether you’re helping to fry samoosas or dipping lamingtons in warm cocoa, everyone is a contributor!”
To this day, non-negotiable menu items include Bombay Crush (“It’s my fondest childhood memory, because you could drink a milkshake for breakfast!”), his mom Geetha’s gulab jamun (“Imagine a koeksister that went to India!”) and his father Frank’s legendary vegetable biryani.
“A few days before Diwali, my dad visits a local market to source all the KZN produce, then marinates the vegetables in a homemade masala-tikka sauce the night before. On the day, it’s cooked with pure butter ghee over a wood fire, then topped with a sour-milk and chilli-cucumber dressing. Oh, and it also has blue rice!”
Rev’s pro tip: “There are a host of sweet treats that can only be made using powdered milk. Use the best-powdered milk money can buy. The integrity of ingredients really helps shape the flavour of these sweet treats.”
Annzra Denita, TASTE digital editor
Annzra grew up Catholic, so come Diwali, her family would join either their Hindu or Tamil relatives in their festivities. As her father, Kenny, is diabetic and no sugary treats were kept at home, Annzra was particularly enamoured with the sweetmeats on offer. “They were so colourful and pretty,” she remembers. “I loved looking at the way they were arranged and would sneak one off the tray before lunch was served. One of my favourite sweet treats is soji. It’s always served at big occasions, so I associate it with celebration and family. My mom’s best friend, aunty Linda, makes the best soji ever. Sadly I’ve never learnt how to make sweetmeats, but there are amazing places in Fordsburg that sell all the treats I love.”
The Diwali celebrations were pot-luck affairs, so they would bring something savoury like a curry or biryani, while her grandmother, Dolly, was the designated “vedah and samoosa aunty”. With her folks based in Joburg and 2020 being what it is, this will be Annzra’s first time hosting her own Diwali at home in Cape Town. “Who knows, I might even make burfee from scratch!”
Annzra’s pro tip: “My dad taught me to add a diced tomato to spices when you’re making a curry so that they don’t burn.”
Featured image: Getty Images/Arijit Mondal