8 Deepavali Dishes (With 3 Special to Singapore)

Header image adapted from Times of India

A ‘Rojak’ Deepavali

As a Tamil Singaporean (and enthusiast of Indian culture and traditions), Deepavali is the most important and colourful festival celebrated in my household. In fact, I spend not days, not weeks, but months preparing for it, from prepping outfits to decorating my house. Its also a moment when the intricacies of what it means to be Singaporean Indian truly come to life!   

You may have learnt about Deepavali in school, and it’s true that Tamil communities here usually observe Deepavali as the day that Lord Krishna vanquished a demonic entity, Narakasuran. Hence, to celebrate the victory of light over darkness we illuminate our entire house with oil lamps! That said, the Singaporean Indian community is extremely diverse and there are many mythological legends and traditions that are observed by specific groups.

 /><img data-lazyloaded=1. Banana Leaf Feast

The most vibrant part of my Deepavali celebration is undoubtedly the Vaazhai Ilai Virunthu – the Banana Leaf Feast! A huge banana leaf acts as the base for numerous food items.

 /><img data-lazyloaded=
 /><img data-lazyloaded=many traditional sweet shops in Little India, do have a go the next time you’re in the area! 

2. Ayam Rendang

Many of my favourite foods in my family’s Singaporean Deepavali celebration reflects our multi-ethnic society! For example, my mother’s signature Deepavali dish is the Indonesian / Malay Ayam Rendang, a sumptuous dry curry of chicken cooked in coconut milk and various spices. 

 /><img data-lazyloaded=

Recipe: https://themeatmen.sg/rendang-perak-with-lemang/ 

Preparation Time: 2hr 30mins. Serves: 6 pax.

3. Tau Sambal

Another dish that reflects our cross-cultural exchanges and of significance in my house (and many other Singaporean Indian households) is ‘Tau Sambal’. 

 /><img data-lazyloaded=4. Wajek – Steamed Glutinous Rice cooked in Gula Melaka and Coconut Milk

Many types of Indonesian / Malay ‘kuehs’ are also made during Deepavali and this is a heartwarming tradition we have been doing since my grandmother’s time. A dish which I have mastered and unfailingly make every year on the eve of Deepavali is ‘Wajek’ – steamed glutinous rice cooked in Gula Melaka (Palm-Sugar) and coconut milk.

 /><img data-lazyloaded=5. Murukku  

Every single Deepavali, I make Murukku. Some may say it’s too oily a snack, but do you know that’s precisely why we make it? (Other than how delicious it is, duh) 

 /><img data-lazyloaded=brings luck, auspiciousness and prosperity to the house.  

For Murukku, After preparing a dough mixture of black gram flour, rice flour, salt, oil and sesame, I squeeze wheel-like shapes out of murukku-makers onto oil-coated banana leaves. Then, these uncooked murukkus are dropped from banana leaves into oil for a good deep fry.

6. Athirasam 

Another popular dish made with oil is Athirasam. In my house, we playfully call them Indian doughnuts! 

 /><img data-lazyloaded=7 / 8. Puli-Parangikai Piratal and Thenga-Paithanga Piratal  

Deepavali food also has a spiritual element to it. Most Tamil families in Singapore and Malaysia practice the ancestral ‘padayal’ ritual. Performed at any time in the week before Deepavali, various food items are offered to our deceased ancestors on a large banana leaf.

It’s also a very emotional process because when we cook for this ancestral prayer, we tend to choose foods that were enjoyed by our deceased relatives. And these are my late grandmother’s favourites. She enjoyed Puli-Parangikai Piratal (pumpkin stir-fried with tamarind and other spices) and Thenga Paithanga Piratal (long beans stir-fried with shredded coconut). 

 /><img data-lazyloaded=Deepavali Foods in Singapore

My grandmother grew up in a Kampong alongside other Malay and Chinese families, and the Kampong spirit of sharing recipes and cooking techniques still resonates with us today. 

As I think about the many Deepavali celebrations I have had so far, I realise that being Singaporean-Indian manifests in scrumptious ways during this festival – and this Rojak culture of incorporating various cultural elements still continues to shine as bright as the lamps we light for Deepavali. 

P.S. If your family has their own Deepavali dishes, share them in our Meatmen Cooking Community on Facebook


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