Celebrate Diwali, the Hindu new year, with Indian sweets and snacks from… (Shakil Adil / Associated…)
Today is Diwali, the Indian festival of lights that marks the Hindu new year and commemorates the homecoming of the Lord Rama after 14 years in exile.
Times contributor Linda Burum recently wrote about the celebration in Southern California:
"There is no more delicious way to capture Diwali's spirit than to follow the crowds to our favorite sweet and snack shops. Each place also serves dosas, chaat and other vegetarian meals, but at the moment all eyes are on the holiday goodies."
Here are some sweet and snack shops in the L.A. area:
Surati Farsan Mart
This former hole-in-the-wall recently reopened after a remodeling that doubled its size. Towering stacks of red and gold boxes disappear fast from the polished new display cases. Geometrically designed sweets in variegated tones are lined up like burnished jewels. Vivid green and white spirals of sweetened, crushed pistachio and white cashew nuts are sliced to form kaju pista rolls. Pink rose anjir patties come splotched with edible silver foil. Squares of jaggery-sweetened sesame seeds, tal papri, have a cookie-like crunch, and rose-flavored coconut balls are dipped in deep, dark chocolate. Mounds of savories include lilo chevdo -- a knock-out spice-infused snack mix of matchstick potatoes, cashews, garbanzos, raisins and other mysteries.
11814 E. 186th St., Artesia, (562) 860-2310. www.suratifarsanmart.com
Sukhadia's Methai & Restaurant
Uday Shah's great-grandfather opened the first Sukhadia's in Khamnbhat, Gujarat, in 1880 and created a franchise run by the whole family today. If you associate Indian confections with teeth-numbing sugariness, Shah will change your perception with his naturally sweet (and vegan-friendly) items such as anjeer halva. The nut-studded disks of pure ground figs are surrounded by a shaggy coat of shredded coconut. Less virtuous but still modestly sweet are the saffron and cardamom-perfumed almond penda made from finely crushed nuts. Crumbly cookie-like motichoor laddu, made from garbanzo flour, are rich with ghee and bits of dry fruit. Savories in Lucite containers hang like artwork on one wall of this flamboyantly painted shop. The tongue-tingling puffy garbanzo masala bundi can get seriously addictive.
18413 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, (562) 402-1155, www.facebook.com/SukhadiaLA
Radhe Sweets & Catering
When owner Chetan Malani puts out his mathis and ghagra, his nostalgic Gujarat customers practically weep with joy. "We only make these for Diwali," he says. They've waited all year to load up on the crisp fried lentil flour wafers and the empanada-like turnovers of semolina and paneer cheese. On an average day, his display cases are chockablock with beautifully groomed methai and tall pyramids of crunchy snacks. Try the kaju amir roll -- pressed cashews rolled around a fig filling -- or the cookie-like methi ladoo, golden buttery balls perfumed with cardamom and fenugreek that have the sweet-savory nuance of salted caramels. Masala-roasted peanuts will get your gustatory juices flowing. And to quell any hunger, order the grilled Bombay-style vegetarian sandwich.
3070 W. Lincoln Ave., I-J, Anaheim, (714) 220-9355, www.radhesweets.com
K.C. Spices & Paan, Sangam Grocery & Paan
People who host fairly formal meals, whether at home or at one of L.A.'s many Indian banquet halls, love to offer their guests fresh paan. Two shops, K.C. Spices & Paan and Sangam Grocery & Paan, make and serve these fragrant after-dinner digestive aids that remedy overindulgences during Diwali's party season. Using betel leaves as individual wrappers, paan holds such filling ingredients as sweetened fresh rose petals and candied cumin seeds. They're nothing like the spices put out in bowls at most Indian restaurants. "The leaves are grown in Hawaii and processed in Florida," says Chaitnya Vyas, owner of K.C. Like the paan walahs in India, each place has its own collection of recipes, and customers may request regional variations. The shops cater large events, but orders of any size may be picked up to go.
K.C. Spices & Paan, 18803 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, (562) 402-0894 or (562) 355-2889; Sangam Grocery & Paan, 1155 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar, (909) 861-7074, www.freshpaan.com
Local goods: Crack Caramel
Food FYI: L.A. City Council approves Meatless Monday
Food FYI: Pepsi Special -- with fiber! -- is released in Japan