Memories and traditions of Lent abstinence and Easter decadence, drawn from five tables in India
Around the country, Easter, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the period of Lent leading up to it, is filled with individual, religious or cultural traditions and food, a blend of local and international influences.
Easter can be a test of artistic abilities. When decorating eggs, my sister’s delicate ‘Beach on a Moonlit Night’ was a masterpiece — a silver sketch of a palm tree, crescent moon and ripple of waves on a dark oval backdrop outshining my pedestrian squiggle-marked shells. Luckily, the Easter egg hunt rules favoured “finders keepers”, ensuring a 50 percent chance of getting the better decorated eggs, even though they all tasted the same once peeled — hard boiled with lashings of pepper and salt, eaten with crispy bacon and buttery waffles.
Around the country, Easter, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the period of Lent leading up to it, is filled with individual, religious or cultural traditions and food, a blend of local and international influences. Halwas, vattayapam or chicken curries share pride of place with roast duck, meatloaf and chocolate bunnies on celebratory menus around the country. Memories and traditions of abstinence and decadence during Lent and Easter are shared from around five tables in India:
Eggs of every kind
Living abroad and around India exposed Habari Warjri to varied Easter celebrations. “Easter is firstly about Christ rising and we celebrate that by going to church for mass, followed by a family feast,” says the 41-year-old mother of two, who now lives in her hometown, Shillong. Abstaining from alcohol and meat during Lent was customary for some of her family members. “We usually observed Good Friday and attended the Stations of the Cross [a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man] at church.”
Hot cross buns — a sweet, spiced bun with dried fruit and a doughy cross baked into the top — are an integral part of her Good Friday. “Hot cross buns are a big thing in Shillong. We have several amazing bakers, so there are lots of delicious baked goodies to enjoy over Easter,” Warjri says.
The celebratory family feast is usually Khasi specialties, an abundance of meat on the table after a period of abstinence. “Our menu includes local free range organic chicken curry, jadoh (rice cooked in pork blood, though the blood is not always used) which is a yellow rice with meat, doh sniang nei iong (pork in black sesame), tungrumbai (fermented soybean chutney with pork), tungtap (fermented dried fish chutney with chilis) and a bunch of local salads all grown at home,” says Warjri. “Now with my children, Easter is about all sorts of eggs, egg decorating and treasure hunts. We go to church, although we stand outside as they cannot sit still, so we rarely get to hear much of the Easter sermon anymore!”
Lavish Easter evenings
“Often the only Christian family in a secular community, we celebrated with guests who came by to wish us in the evening and feast on a table laden with food,” says Nina Gupta, remembering her Easter celebrations around India. Originally from Mumbai, her family’s eclectic culinary traditions were influenced by their nomadic Air Force life and her mother’s Anglo-Burmese-Portuguese heritage. Along with the Easter feast, the 46-year-old Noida-based home chef of Nina’s Kitchen remembers distinct dishes around Lent. “On Good Friday we ate kanji (rice gruel) with fried bombil. During Lent we turned vegetarian or gave up tea or sweets. Now, I also distribute a few cooked meals to those less fortunate and buy groceries for a nearby orphanage,” says Gupta.
The family’s Easter evening spreads stemmed from their time on Air Force stations when everyone came over to share in the festivities. “Family lunch was a roast chicken or turkey, garlic bread and mash. For the evening a lavish feast was prepared.” She recalls a glorious table with roast duck or chicken sandwiches, roast beef, ham, meatloaf, salted meat, breads, quiches, chutneys and dipping sauces for each platter. The Portuguese-Burmese influence was front and centre with pork vindaloo, prawn balachaung, Burmese salads, kowni ghin (grilled sticky rice) and khowsuey. Gupta cooks a similar spread for her friends on Easter evening, while Nina’s Kitchen includes many of these family recipes, a tribute to the generous spread her mother prepared for years.
Some healthy competition
Growing up with five sisters in a close-knit Anglo-Indian family, Charmaine Wells admits that there is some healthy sibling competition at Easter as they are all good cooks.
“We grew up in Abu Road, a small town in Rajasthan,” says the Faridabad-based mother and homemaker. “As a child, Easter meant the oncoming of holidays. Lent started with Pancake Tuesday (a day before Ash Wednesday) when my mother would rustle up her delicious crepes.” This was the last day of indulgence before Lent. Attending mass was compulsory every Friday of Lent and Good Friday was followed by a tea with hot cross buns. “We loved these freshly baked buns which were delivered home by our local bakery. Every Christian household in town pre-ordered them a week before Good Friday.,” recalls Wells of this memorable treat on a day that was otherwise spent in quiet contemplation, with no music or television allowed.
The excitement set in at Easter midnight mass, followed by breakfast with Easter eggs. “Dad would make a special trip to Ajmer or Ahmedabad to buy the Easter eggs, as they were unavailable in our small town. Mum spent the morning preparing a special lunch, usually yakhni pulao, chicken korma, salad and fried papad. And shandy, one glass allowed for the younger ones,” she remembers.
These traditions remain unchanged for Wells, along with an emphasis on presentation at the table and homemade chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. “Usually, we convene at one of the sisters’ houses, each of us bringing a dish, the main ones similar to my mother’s menu. We decorate our tables with knickknacks like the Easter bunny, decorated eggs, homemade bread baskets, little chicks and more, each one a visual delight.”
Breaking bread together
“It was like another Christmas-time to celebrate, eat, and spend time with family and cousins,” recalls Jocelyn Jose of her childhood Easter celebrations. The Delhi-based social development professional’s Easter memories revolve around religious traditions, like attending mass throughout Lent.
“On Maundy Thursday (a day before Good Friday, commemorating the Last Supper) after the evening mass, we would cut the two rice cakes my mom made at home. One was savoury, Pesaha Appam, and the other sweet, Vattayappam. This was our last meal before Good Friday fasting,” recalls Jose, describing the former as distinct to Kerala, made on Maundy Thursday. A firm unleavened rice cake, it is usually served with Pesaha Pal, a coconut milk syrup, in commemoration of Jesus Christ breaking bread and giving it to his disciples at the Last Supper.
“Easter was always a day of jubilation. Breakfast was usually appam with egg or chicken curry. Lunch included one meat option (beef/pork/chicken), fish fry, moru kachiyathu (buttermilk curry), pappadum and vattayappam. Sometimes we ate kozhukattai (rice flour dumplings with a coconut and jaggery filling) for breakfast.” With most of her family in Kerala now, 33-year-old Jose does not cook an elaborate homemade feast. “I eat at a nice Malayali restaurant to celebrate!” she says.
Just like mom does it
“As a child, Easter was always exciting as I would help my mum with her homemade Easter eggs,” says Amentha Marques. The 36-year-old travel professional and home chef splits her time between Mumbai, where she lives, and Goa, her home turf, which she frequents to visit family.
“Eating hot cross buns, kanji and fried or salted fish after fasting on Good Friday marked the end of Lent and the beginning of festivities.” Her celebrations remain unaltered over the years though gifting Easter eggs to neighbours and family is an additional tradition. “Easter vigil (a night mass) was followed by wishing friends and family and a homemade feast, which included roast chicken, pork vindaloo, pulao, Goan batk cake (made of semolina, butter, sugar and eggs) and my mum’s signature green chicken curry,” she notes.
Marques likes to cook the same dishes, the handcrafted touch an integral part of the festivities. “My mother has and will always be my inspiration, for her love of ingredients and the significance of each step in the cooking process,” she says. “I have curated all her recipes passed on to me.”
Read recipes here —
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