Holi Day with Anjum Anands

{ Holi is a really ancient festival and whilst there is a mythological story attached to it, it is mostly associated with the onset of spring and celebrates a good harvest. }

Can you tell me about the origins of Holi and how people celebrate?

Holi is a really ancient festival and whilst there is a mythological story attached to it, it is mostly associated with the onset of spring and celebrates a good harvest.

Holi is a national Indian holiday so people spend the day with friends and family. There is a lot of street roaming, street-food eating, garden parties and general being merry. It is known as the festival of colours as the most distinctive feature of Holi is that people rub coloured powder into and onto each other. People also throw water balloons filled with coloured water or shoot coloured water guns. By the end of the day, most are drenched, and or a general big mass of colour.

Can you tell me about your memories of Holi, your most memorable Holi festival?

My first Holi memory was actually on the set of a Bollywood movie. My father was invited to the filming and we all went along. Everyone was dressed in white and were rubbing coloured powder into each others faces as the actors, doing the same were also singing. Others were doing a choreographed routine with piston-like guns full of the coloured water at each other. I thought it was crazy, chaotic and magical. I have since had a few Holis in friends gardens on this side of the world which have been lots of fun but the cold weather and coats slightly kill the magic.

Are there different style celebrations in the different cities around India?

There are some cities which are slightly different, some celebrate for longer but most have a similar feel.

How do you celebrate Holi with your family?

I would love to take my kids to India for a proper Holi but it falls in term-time so we are always in the UK. We are generally invited to a friends’ house who has a garden. We all bring an Indian dish and spend the day together, ducking away from too much colour (it takes forever to come out) and avoiding the water guns altogether. The children absolutely love it.

What are some of the traditional dishes that people enjoy to eat during Holi?

They eat a lot of street food which varies from region to region but holi food in the North is mostly pakoras (vegetables fried with a delicious gram-flour coating), samosas, dahi bhallas (a lentil dumpling smothered in seasoned yoghurt and served with a herb and a sweet and tangy tamarind chutneys). As with all festivals, there is a fair amount of Indian sweets around, often in Holi there is one that is perhaps eaten more than others. It is a small stuffed pastry, the stuffing varies from region to region, in the North it is filled with nuts and thickened milk, in the South, it is coconut and nuts. There is also a drink that people only drink on Holi called Thandai, which is a delicious mix of rose syrup, milk, poppy seeds and melon seeds and on Holi it might have a little cannabis in it and be called Bhang.

And what drinks do people enjoy? I understand that there is a drink called Bhang made with cannabis leaves – can you tell me about that? Is that widely enjoyed across India?

It is only drunk on Holi and is quite traditional. We don’t really know what the origins of the drink are but it is understood that drinking bhang goes back for centuries and perhaps even further. It was possibly used to help in meditation and for medicinal purposes. It is now a firm Holi favourite.

Do people give traditional food style gifts to each other?

It isn’t really traditional to give gifts on Holi but if someone is going to a friend’s home, it is quite customary to take something sweet, not so different from us taking a bottle of wine to someone’s dinner party.


Check out her new TV series launching on April 4th at 7.30pm on the SBS Food Network called Anjum’s Australian Spice Stories.

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