Food for Thought

Feasting on Indian Wedding Food

By Gene Gonzalez

Indian weddings are tremendous­ly fun. The activities in these wed­dings are symbolic of a new phase in life and the happiness in store for the couple. Weddings like these in­volve family and friends who will fig­ure well in the couple’s life together, as well as feasting for a whole day or for several days, which is why organizers must make sure that delicious food is in good supply and that there is great entertainment.

The main meals of lunch and dinner could be supplemented by mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks that are some­times hefty enough to substi­tute for lunch or dinner. Sep­arate tables for vegetarians have equally scrumptious choices, partly to respect religious or cultural prefer­ences. Ceremonies have different pastries and sweet meats served to the guests in separate ceremonies, as part of their well-wishes for the groom and the bride.

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Traditional Indian sweets.

This is a short description of the different highlights of three days of feasting, which culminated in a grand re­ception. Many take the afternoons and their evening slumbers seriously as the activities add up and can wear one off. The trick is to last until the main recep­tion. Sleeping in between reminds me of the times we had night to early morning raves or parties in places Boracay.

Nut brittles.

Day one is for the wedding practice and this is also when the couple is presented to the guests. The officiating priests give the couple and their parents some instructions on the ceremony. As hosts, the father and mother of the groom occupy an important area and take on a central role on stage, as prayers and chanting observed by the guests alternate with served nut brittle and nut comfits—symbolic of sweetness and love for family.

A prominent member of the family traditionally feeds the guests barfis or milk squares embellished with nuts, of­fered by hand as a gesture of friendship. For those who eat, this serves as a ges­ture of wishing the couple a sweet life. The same goes for the praying over of friends and the “Tearing of the Clothes” ritual, which sym­bolizes forgetting the past.

An assortment of barfis, photo courtesy of Jay del Corro.

High tea after such rituals, of course, becomes interest­ing as spiced chai or tea fra­grance with cardamom and other spices are served: Bom­bay triple-decker sandwiches, crisp belpoori made with puffed rice, crispy noodles and vermicelli, onions, chopped scallions, and fresh cilantro folded in with a thick sweet-sour tamarind sauce that’s so full of flavor and with different textures or degrees of sweetness.

Another item is the crisp fried, deli­cately thin puffs filled with spiced chick­peas stewed to tenderness and scooped into waters flavored with cilantro, chives, and dark tamarind water. This explodes in the mouth into a tasty liquid, with a crunch of the pastry and velvety chick­pea filling. On another day, we were treated to fusion creations that had com­patible spices, whether in street food or chat. One was Mexican kachori chat that placed salsas on crisp, thin wheat bread and lamb. Another was Thai pao or a softroll with Bhaji of dal or lentil pu­ree. Burrata chat combined the crunch of fried quinoa with the creaminess and fresh dairy flavors of cheese, with a touch of tamarind dressing. I enjoyed what seemed to be a very interesting snack of puffy and crisp fried batturas, best with stewed, buttery chickpeas topped with onions and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Regional curries
Regional curries.

The Sangeet is when guests are treated to a night of music, dance, food, and drinks. Of the many different recep­tions there are in an Indian wedding, this is the most creative. Older celebra­tions would import poets or traditional musicians. At present, it’s a huge dance party that seems to carry on into a Bolly­wood tradition. Indian silks and brocade beaded suits for the men and elegant sa­ris for the ladies move and flow till early morning. Breads slapped and baked in a tandoor, such as buttery naan, saj, and flatbreads go with the grilled kebabs of chicken and lamb. Curries from veg­etarian to meat laden with masalas are equally balanced by selections of salads. Modern and traditional desserts abound on the table and, of course, because of the occasion and flavors, I would go with the traditional milk desserts of almond and pistachio barfi, some enrobed with silver leaf denoting a special occasion.

Breakfast breads
Breakfast bread.

The actual wedding can take three to four hours, as it starts with a parade with drums rolling and the guests dancing to the beat. Monetary negotiations are made for the bride to alight and join the wedding. Oftentimes, the groom’s shoes are bought from the wife’s side. Again, because of a wedding that is steeped in tradition and ceremony takes long, food is served to the guests as an afternoon snack. The wed­ding has to be finished before sundown as a measure of luck and eating this af­ternoon snack prepares the guest for the main reception in the evening.

Traditional Indian wedding.

The formal reception for the wedding, a black-tie affair with free-flowing cham­pagne, also comes with cocktails and stur­geon caviar. Highlights of the dinner are a selection of tandoor grilled items that include lobster for 500 guests and some awesome pastries, such as a deep-layered and dark chocolate cake with ganache and croquant called the Palace Cake. Curds in patty form with fragrant flowery syrup called rasgullas are part of a traditional dessert spread, with a buttery carrot hal­va covered with edible silver foil.

White sturgeon cavia
White sturgeon cavia.

I also love the breakfasts included in Indian weddings, and this one I recently at­tended spoiled the guests with a buffet that will put several luxury hotels to shame. There was a great selection of bread, from western baguette, pumpernickel, German pretzels, and rye, to Arabic and freshly-cooked Indian dosa. Cheeses cover two lanes and ranged from Mediterranean and ancient, fresh cheeses such as string-like mushalala, silky nabulsi, creamy labneh balls, crumbly haloumi, to double-cream camembert, emmentahl, and other Euro­pean selections. There were also Mediter­ranean and Western viands, cured meats, salmon, and tuna. These are accompanied by freshly pressed or squeezed juices, and with table water of your choice such as Ac­quaPanna or San Pellegrino.

Oh, by the way, this breakfast buffet and wedding feast I just described happened at the Emirates Palace of Abu Dhabi. You can’t get any more regal than that.

The original article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.

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