Diwali, the Festival of Lights celebrating the victory of good over evil, is celebrated by a variety of religious groups for different reasons. This year it runs from October 17 to 21 with the celebration observed on October 19. Priya McHugh shares her memories of celebrating Diwali with her family in Toronto's "Little India" when she was a child and a recipe for Aloo Tikki.
We grew up celebrating Diwali. It’s easy to get caught up in the “Festival of Lights” celebrated by many people all over the world. Rows of clay lamps light the doorways of Hindus — a symbol of inner light that shines on spiritual darkness. Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, when Hindu gods and goddesses defeated the demons. People seek blessings from the goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and pray for success.
Diwali is celebrated over five days, including a day for spring cleaning, decorating the home with clay lamps and Rangoli designs, fireworks, feasts and visiting friends and relatives. A fast and furious five days for sure, but it leaves your stomach full and your heart happy.
Memories of Diwali
Every year we would make our way to “Little India” in Toronto and join in the celebration. It was an incredible thing to be part of. Lights were strewn over the streets and above our heads. The glow from the lanterns and candles on the sidewalks signaled where the celebration was. It was hard to miss; the streets were full of people and the lights spread over the street illuminated the way.
The sound of bhangra music came from every car and store. It filled your ears and you couldn’t help but bounce your shoulders to the music while you made your way down the street. The alleyways were full of street vendors selling sugary sweets and snacks on makeshift tables. Called “mithai,” these sweet snacks are made with condensed milk, pistachios, coconut and spices like cardamom and saffron. Fried jalebis are soaked in syrup and give you a sugar jolt that makes you want to eat another and another.
Food stalls lined the streets, selling grilled corn covered in lime juice and chili or selling raw sugar cane juice (I used to love to chew on the cane!). A local vendor would peel a mango for you on the street. The juices dripped down our chins and we fought over who got to chew on the mango pit.
The smell of Indian curries wafted from the windows of restaurants. It was overwhelming and with our mouths drooling, we would grab a thali at my dad’s favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
We would drive home after the long evening celebration, our feet sore from walking and our bodies tired from dancing. The music stores and video stores would blare bhangra music, and inevitably people would take to dancing on the streets. It was mesmerizing. My brother and I would dance in the corner, failing miserably; our bhangra dancing skills were not up to par. But for better or worse, we still did it.
This recipe for aloo tikki (similar to potato pancakes) reminds me of Diwali. We would pile our paper plates with aloo tikki and chana masala (chickpea curry), then devour it while sitting on the street curb. If we were lucky, we got utensils, but that was never guaranteed. It was spicy and flavourful, crispy but soft in the centre. And then a glass of sugar cane juice to wash it all down. We would be stuffed and still want more, eating half of another plate before giving up – our eyes were always bigger than our stomachs.
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Celebrating Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights was written by Priya Mchugh. Priya blogs about her food obsessions, weekend cocktails and the recipes she can't live without at Little Kitchen. Big World. You can connect with Priya on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.