In Kochi, a diverse workforce brings the city Deepavali sweets from across rural India


As Kochi draws an increasingly diverse workforce from across the country, rural traditions and sweets from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Orissa add a colourful facet to city celebrations

As Kochi draws an increasingly diverse workforce from across the country, rural traditions and sweets from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Orissa add a colourful facet to city celebrations

The batasha is said to be one of the favourite foods of Goddess Lakshmi, around who Deepavali is celebrated. Made during the first sugarcane harvests, these coin-size sugar candies are popular in the villages of Eastern UP, Bihar, Bengal and Orissa.  Another form, the kheel batasha, in the shape of birds and animals, is another traditional festive sweetmeat.

These rural sweets are now available in Kochi, thanks to a growing workforce of North Indian migrant workers, who use them as festive offerings on special occasions. As the North Indian influx increases in Kerala, catering to demands in tourism, housekeeping, plantation sectors and more, festivals like Deepavali have acquired a new feel. While earlier settlers from across the country, who moved here mainly to trade, added a contemporary facet with décor and gifting, the current settlers bring in a traditional touch.

“Not only cuisine but rural traditions which are lost in metros can also be seen here now,” says Sangeeta Kumar, a teacher Choice School, Tripunithura, originally from Ballia in UP, discussing the visible changes in celebrations. For instance, now locals can buy a traditional pack of brooms, lotus seeds (a substitute for lotus flowers), fox nuts, cowries and small coconuts, all offered to propitiate the Goddess.

Makeshift Deepavali market at Mundamveli

Desi ghee sweets

“I see a marked change,” says Hukum Singh, who moved to Kochi 18 years ago from Jodhpur, and set up a North Indian vegetarian food catering service, Hukum Singh’s Bombay Caterers & Sweets. He says food orders have “increased ten folds,” owing to a growing North Indian community, adding that clients also order sweets jalebis and kalakand “made with cow’s milk, ghee for occasions .”

Singh, who is currently busy putting together a large order of 2000 kilos motipaak( square shaped motichoor laddoos filled with Khoya) from just one client, says he is delighted that the festival is being celebrated in full strength after two years. To deal with the surge of orders, he has called in 15 staff from his branches in Coonoor and Chennai. His menu includes saffron-flavoured jalebi, moti paak, motichoor laddoo and kaju katli. Discussing his speciality, he adds, “The motichoor ladoo must have very fine dana (balls), the word means crushed pearls.”

Hukum Singh mithaiwala from Jodhpur

Hukum Singh mithaiwala from Jodhpur

Sushma Lodaya is known for retailing Gujarati food all through the year from her home in Mattancherry, but during Deepavali, she takes orders for specific traditional Gujarati sweets like meetha ghughra, sweet dumplings filled with a mix of khoya and nuts) laddoos and Mohanthal (a fudge made with chickpea flour, sugar and ghee). Her savoury preparations include sukka chivada, ghatiya, theeki sev and the popular mathri.

“Diwali sweets use mainly mawa, khoya and kaju,” says Amit Sarkar who introduced Bengali sweets to Kerala in 2013 by starting Bikash Babu Sweets, a chain that has 15 outlets across the State. Sarkar opened his first outlet in Kochi where he now has four- Panampilly Nagar, Kaloor Kadavanthara, Kakkanad and Edapally.

Sugar free sweets

He has launched “no sugar” sweets this year, in response to customers who want to eat healthier. Made with figs, dates and honey, there is a variety of five sweets- Anjeer ball, Rose Ball, Dry Fruit Burfi, Rose Kaju Katli, Kaju Tacos— to choose from. Another novelty is that the sweet boxes offer calorie count information printed on the inside. “We have Kolkata sweets like abar khabo, chum chum and rosogullas, along with Deepavali sweets this time, made by special cooks from Rajasthan and Gujarat,” says Amit. Bikash Babu sweet boxes range from ₹ 250 to ₹ 2,000.

“With the increased presence of North Indians, we now get authentic versions mithai,” says Ramanand Kamath, a stockbroker who has been placing a standing order with Hukum Singh for 25 kilos of sweets every year, for the past seven years.  He adds, “We used to have North Indian sweets earlier too but now the taste and appearance of the sweets are very true to the original, like the real motichoor ladoo.”

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