It wasn’t until my first Diwali away from home, in a midwestern campus town 20 years ago, that I truly grasped how much Diwali means to me. Known in the Western world as the Festival of Lights, Diwali is all about family, our special rituals, the treats and fireworks, and enjoying it all together. Diwali is deeply religious for many, and celebrations include wearing festive clothing, gift exchanges, creating elaborate artwork called rangoli, ceremonial lamp-lighting and fireworks to eliminate negativity, and visiting elders and places of worship for blessings.
And of course, as a family we feast upon traditional Indian sweets, or mithai. Confectioners, lovingly known as halwais, show off their skills in converting simple ingredients, milk, sugar, flour, spices, and nuts, into mounds of decadent treats. They range in sweetness from delicate to diskettes dripping in syrup, and they come in all textures and shapes, some covered in fine sheets of gold or silver. Mithais are vegetarian, so we can incorporate them into religious offerings, or prasad, as an untasted serving offered on a decorative platter at either the family religious altar or at the temple. Afterwards, we consume the mithai prasad as a “blessing”.
In the late '90s, there weren’t many places to purchase good quality Diwali mithai in our campus town. We had to make a day long drip to Devon Street in Chicago, 200 miles away. I had to struggle alone in a small student apartment to create my own.
But today, thankfully, there is no dearth of well-made classic Diwali mithais. Here are a few of my favorites, especially for the holiday, and where you can buy them.