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A Very Trini Punjabi Diwali (with DJ Rekha)

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Nov 02, 2015
A Very Trini Punjabi Diwali (with DJ Rekha)

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Next week Hindus, Sikhs and Jains from New York to New Delhi will celebrate Diwali.

It's a huge festival for South Asians around the world. (Think Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years Eve rolled into one, PLUS July 4th fireworks!) And there are so many ways of celebrating. This week on The Sporkful, we're digging in on what Diwali’s all about and why it's so delicious.

First up, we head to Queens to cook some Trinidadian specialties for Diwali with Dolly Sirju and her daughter Mandy Ramroop:


Trinidad has a unique food history. The British brought indentured servants from India to this tiny island just off the coast of Venezuela -- and those Indian immigrants brought their food and Hinduism with them. Now food in Trinidad is a crazy flavorful blend of Indian, African, Caribbean, and Chinese cuisines. And Diwali is a BIG deal.

Dolly grew up there, but she raised her family in New York, where she's been living for over 20 years.

"[Diwali is] a huge huge celebration," Dolly says. "For us, it's like we're celebrating Christmas...and [it's] like our new year."

"It's about spending time with each other," Mandy adds of her family's Diwali traditions. "When you pray together and eat together, it makes the family stronger."

At Diwali, Dolly makes vegetarian specialties like baiganee (below top), kurhi with pholourie (below bottom), and channa and aloo:



And now Dolly's daughter Mandy is carrying on those holiday food traditions.

"I can always pass [these recipes] down to my kids and teach them what my mom taught me," Mandy says. "[So] they'll love the same foods I grew up with."

Dolly's OK with that:

"In my next life, if I happen to come back into the family again," she jokes. "I'll be getting good food!"

If you want to learn more about Trinidadian cooking and try some of these amazing dishes, Dolly teaches cooking classes with a great organization in New York called League of Kitchens.

DJ Rekha (Photo Credit Nisha Sondhe)

Next up, we talk Diwali with "bhangra music ambassador" DJ Rekha (above) -- to find out how she celebrates the holiday with her North Indian family in New York.

"We light the house up...and then we play cards," she says. "We celebrate the goddess Laxmi -- the goddess of prosperity -- so in the spirit of prosperity, we gamble. It's a family affair."

Rekha joined me on stage at a live Sporkful event in Boston, where we toasted Diwali the way her Punjabi family does (and yes, that's real Scotch in our glasses):

©2015 Evan Sayles (evansayles.com)

At Diwali, Rekha loves a type of Indian sweets called barfi (below)-- a creamy, fudge-like confection made with solidified milk, sugar, and other add-ons. She grew up in New York on her mother's Punjabi home cooking, but she also loves processed American junk foods.

Rekha admits it's not easy blending those two very different worlds -- Indian and American, but she feels lucky to have a foot planted firmly in each.

"I feel blessed, I think I was very lucky," she says. "I think I grew up between many cultures: Suburban, urban; Indian, non-Indian."


Listen in to the full episode to find out how DJ Rekha composes her ideal bite of food (hint: Indian roti is crucial) and why she prefers to eat Indian dishes with a spork!

Last but far from least -- a very special shout out to the Tufts University Bhangra Team! They performed an amazing dance right before Rekha came out on stage in Boston (featured image at top). They’re one of the best bhangra teams in the country and if you ever get the chance, check them out!

Diwali Mubarak and Shubh Deepavali, eaters! Or as our friends at The Office would say -- Happy Diwali!!

The Office - Diwali Song from Brad Linder on Vimeo.

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Connect with me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook!

Interstitial music in this episode courtesy of DJ Rekha.

Photos: Dan Pashman, Anne Noyes Saini, Evan Sayles, Nisha Sondhe, and FlickrCC/Dani

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