World of Mouth: Holi Hai!

The column that brings you food festivals from around the world; find out why Hindus painted themselves all the colors of the rainbow.

March 22, 2011 12:44
4 minute read.
Thandai Masala

Thandai Masala. (photo credit: Courtesy of Vegetarian Tastebuds)


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Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.

If you happen to live near any sizable Indian communities, you might have seen something a bit unusual on March 19. To be more specific, don’t be surprised if you see a purple person walking down the street. It doesn’t mean that they've just escaped from the nearest Willy Wonka factory. Actually, the reason that many Indians will be purple (or red or orange or blue or green or pink or yellow) on that day is because they'll be celebrating Holi, the “Festival of Colors.” Although the holiday is known by various names depending on region, it is celebrated by Hindus throughout India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, as well as in other areas around the world where there are large Hindu populations.

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One of the main activities on this holiday is “playing” Holi, which basically means running around and trying to drench friends and family in as many colors as possible. This is accomplished by throwing colored powder, and using giant syringes and water balloons filled with colored water. The festival of Holi has its origins in mythological legends but in modern times it is seen as a way to celebrate life and the coming of spring.

You can get a feel of the festivities from this Holi-themed Fanta commercial!

As if Holi were not colorful enough already, many celebrants put even more color into the holiday by consuming foods and beverages containing bhang, a paste made from the leaves and flowers of the female cannabis plant. It is sold legally in government-authorized shops throughout India. The most popular way to consume Bhang on Holi is by adding it to Thandai, a drink that includes milk, sugar, almonds, dried watermelon seeds, and spices such as cardomam and black peppercorns.

Here is famous chef Antony Bourdain trying a Bhang Thandai (also known as “Bhang Lassi”) on his show “No Reservations.”

As we can see, he is given the choice between "normally strong, super duper sexy strong, and full power 24 hour, no toilet, no shower" strong!

Of course there are also plenty of bhang-free foods eaten on Holi, and although there are variations depending on the region, it appears that for many, the best-loved Holi foods are the sweets! In Eastern India, typical Holi dishes include Malpoa (sweet fritters), Saffron milk and Payash (Bengali rice pudding). In Maharashtra, Puran Poli (flatbreads stuffed with lentils sweetened with jaggery) are eaten, and in Northern India, gujiyas (fried dumplings filled with sweetened milk solids) are the most popular treats for Holi.

For those of you who are interested in having your own Holi experience, try this recipe for refreshing and tasty Thandai from food blogger Raji of Vegetarian Tastebuds.

Since this version of the recipe doesn’t contain any bhang, it will be up to you if you want to bring it up to “super duper sexy strong” standards.


For the thandai masala:
(if you find it difficult to locate one or two of these ingredients, don't worry, the drink will still be delicious!)

-Dried Red Rose Petals- 1 1/2 cup
-Fennel- 3 tablespoons
-Melon Seeds- 3 tablespoons
-Cardamom Pods- 10
-Cumin-1 teaspoon
-Coriander Seeds- 1 teaspoon
-Whole Black Pepper- 1 tablespoon

Mix all the above ingredients and store in an air tight container. When required, mix the ingredients well and grind as much required to a powder and use.

For making thandai
( Serves 2)

-Ground Thandai Masala (see above)- 2 tbsp
-Whole Milk- 1 1/2 cup
-Water- 1/2 cup
-Almonds- 10
-Poppy Seeds- 1 teaspoon
-Sugar- 3 to 4 tablespoons (or to taste)

- Soak the almonds in hot water for some time and remove their skins. Now soak the skinless almonds along with the poppy seeds in little water for 2-3 hrs. Using just a bit of the soaking water, grind the almonds and poppy seeds to a fine paste and set aside.

-In a blender pour the milk, water, thandai masala and the paste of almonds and poppy along with sugar.

-Pulse the blender 3-4 times. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve and chill the strained milk in the refrigerator.

-Serve cool and refreshing thandai chilled in glasses.

Read more of Johanna's thoughts on food at:

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