One of the most vibrant and auspicious festivals, Navratri is celebrated across the length and breadth of the country. The beats of dhols, dances and colourful displays might differ from state to state but the energy around these nine days is equally magical everywhere. While for many the period is highlighted by fasting and detoxification to better adjust to climatic changes or onset of winter, for others it is a perfect reason for feasting. It is that time of the year when kuttu (buckwheat), rajgira (amaranth), singhara (water chestnut), sabudana (sago) and vrat ke chawal or samvat rice (barnyard millet) preparations become staple in a lot of homes. For the rest, the eating spree varies between farsaan, naivedyam, luchi poori and a lot more. Here’s a looking at how food defines the festive fervour of this season in various parts of India.
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In Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, Navratri is defined by grand Ramlila performances, fairs and their scrumptious fare, and a lot of street food. In the households, daily meals see a lot of mouth-watering dishes like makhane ki kheer (foxnut pudding), dahi wale aloo (curd potato), khatta meetha kaddu (sweet and sour pumpkin), sago vadas and khichdi, buckwheat chapattis or pakoras, fried potatoes, raw banana kebabs and various cottage cheese preparations, all made using green chilli, cumin, black pepper, anardana (pomegranate seeds) and sendha namak (rock salt) only. In Punjab or Punjabi homes, everyone waits for the eighth or ninth day when fasting ends and little girls are invited for kanjak – a feast of halwa, poori and chana, and small gifts. In some Rajasthani and UP homes, you would see this feast amplified with kadhi, kheer, pakoras, meethe pue (sweet dumplings) and kachodi.
Durga Puja pandals or temporary temples draw thousands of enthusiasts to not only celebrate the festival like a big community but also enjoy their meals like one. Be it West Bengal, Assam or Bihar, you will be greeted with the sounds of dhol, tasha and dhaki dance. However, the best is saved for taste buds. Think bhog or spicy khichuri with vegetables like potatoes and cauliflower, served with tomato and dates chutney and baingun bhaja (fried eggplant). Add to that a mix of Bengali and Assamese delicacies like bandhakopir dalna or torkari, aloo posto (potato with poppy seeds), pathishapta (pancake with coconut filling), ghugni (chickpeas served with chopped onions and chutneys) and mishti doi (sweet curd), and you would never let modernism win the war with traditions. While, and much to non-vegetarians’ delight, Bengali pandals will have kathi rolls, mutton chops, fried fish and more, Bihar adds special to the equation with uniquely delightful arbi ka kuttu kofta (taro root and buckwheat fritters) and singhara malpua (pancake).
Navratri might be largely synonymous with night-long festivities of colourful garba or dandiya in Gujarat and Maharashtra, but there is much more to it. While jalebi and fafda (crispy chickpea snack) continue to be popular breakfast options as ever, the snacks or farsaan like dhokla, paatra, bhajiya, chivda, become the favoured options for quick in-between bites so as not to miss any dancing and celebrations. The traditional fasting dishes are as delectable as they sound – sama ni khichad (a dish made of barnyard millet), rajgira ni poori/thepla/kadhi, suran ni khichad (made of yam) and shinghara no sheero (water chestnut dessert). The state that boasts of the business capital of the country indulges in food as much as in buying all things big and nice, be it a car or a house, during these auspicious days. The fried aloo ki sabji, sago fritters, matar paneer, sabudana thalipeeth and dry fruits milkshake are a must.
Just like the varied names and traditions Navratri gets here, the culinary delights associated with the festival are equally diverse and spoil you for choice. If in Karnataka, it is known as Nadahabba, it is signified by kolu dolls (believed to be the army of Goddess Durga) in Tamil Nadu. Kerala treats this as an occasion for learning new things or skills, and in Telangana it becomes Bathukamma, the floral festival. And, you could get to taste as many varieties of naivedyams (offerings to god) too, ranging from sundal (legumes tempered with coconut), sweet or savoury ven pongal (rice and lentils), kadhamba saadham (rice prepared with lentils and vegetables), payasam (rice and milk pudding), neiappam (sweet rice-based fritter), tamarind rice, curd rice, coconut rice, milk kesari (semolina-milk pudding) and a variety of laddoos.
This article was first published in October 2018 and has been updated since.