They are a totem of special occasions throughout Indian life. Colourful morsels, often adorned with edible gold or silver foil called vark. Yet, all too often, the mere mention of mithai, or Indian sweets, elicits the complaint – “It’s too sweet!”
Given mithai’s significance in Indian life and today’s woke culture, it’s almost shocking that this reaction hasn’t yet spawned any backlash.
“It’s not wrong though,” said private dining chef Vasunthara Ramasamy when I asked if the common complaint may seem offensive. “Maybe I’m not offended easily, but mithai is very sweet.”
“Sweetmeats are meant for celebrations,” she went on to explain. “You give them to someone to celebrate good news, so you don’t go halfway (with the sweetness). And we just eat one. You don’t sit there and eat the whole box.”
LIFE’S SWEET MOMENTS
Mithai are essential to ceremonial occasions in Indian life. They are distributed to commemorate the birth of a baby, at weddings, and at life’s many important moments in between.
“Mithai holds a special place in our Jhunjhnuwala tradition,” said Ritu Jhunjhnuwala, managing director of Indian restaurant Rang Mahal. “In our home, before any celebration of prayer, we offer mithai to the gods, along with water, as a gesture of reverence. This blessed mithai is then shared joyously among our family and friends.”
Naturally, Deepavali wouldn’t be complete without mithai as snaking queues begin to trail out the door of popular Indian sweet shops much like they do at bak kwa stores before Chinese New Year. Many families observe the Hindu festival of lights by exchanging elaborate gift boxes of mithai, dried fruit and nuts.