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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.