While the Christmas cheer has started to spread across the country with people partaking in choir practises, shopping, and other activities, the families in the Goan and Mangalorean Catholic communities get on a marathon to make various local treats that fill up the Kuswar platter to share with friends, family, neighbours, and others on Christmas.
The cold December month is that time of the year when almost everyone across the world is warming up for Christmas celebrations and it is no different in India. As we usher in the festive season many weeks in advance by shopping for Christmas trees, pulling out the wrapped-up decorations and lights from storage, and setting up the cribs, the to-do list of preparations for this festival only grows by the year.
While the Christmas cheer has started to spread across the country with people partaking in choir practices, shopping, and other activities, it is also that time when the families in the Goan and Mangalorean Catholic communities come together and get on a marathon to make various local treats consisting of sweets and savoury goodies that fill up the Kuswar platter, which will be shared with friends, family, neighbours, and others on Christmas.
Kuswar in Konkani means a traditional platter containing an assortment of Christmas sweets and savoury foods that is particularly popular in the Goan, Mumbai, and Mangalorean Catholic communities in India. Preparing Kuswar is a yearly tradition that almost everyone in the community follows, with preparations starting a month in advance. Age-old recipes that have been passed on from many generations come to life during this festive season.
" The Kuswar platter that I make every year is the one I learned growing up at my grandmother's place in Mangalore and our home in Mumbai. It contains the popular kul kuls (sweet dough curls), guliyo (deep-fried rice marbles), roce cookies, thukdi or shankarpali, milkcream (cashewnut and milk fudge), sukrunde (jaggery and greengram frittes), rulaonache or rava laddoo, macaroon (cashew nut merangue cookies), chakkuli, khara kaddis, and Christmas plum cake. The plum cake is my grandmother's special recipe," says Sonya Rodrigues from Bengaluru.
The varieties and number of delights that fill the platter differ from one household to another. The assortment of snacks can range anywhere from 10 varieties of delicacies to an elaborate one consisting of over 30 local sweet and savoury treats, including the famous plum cake that makes its way to a Kuswar platter.
These snacks are mostly prepared by the members of the family and are mostly deep-fried munchies with a long shelf life. While men, women, and children lend a hand to whip up traditional treats like rose cookies, rava laddoo, thukdi, and more, many new kinds of treats get added to the list that is ever-growing by the year.
"Ours is a large family, and we lived with cousins and siblings for many years in a big home at Lalbagh Road. Many afternoons and evenings were spent with everyone making treats like kul kuls, shankarpali (thukdi), chakli, kara kaddi, and macaroons around the dining table as we indulged in cheese platters and wine," recalls Nina William Fernandes, who hails from a Mangalorean Catholic family that settled in Bengaluru over 45 years ago.
Her daughter Sanjana William remembers her late grandmother Margaret, who taught her how to make rose cookies, kul kuls, gulios, and sukur unde (greengram and jaggery fritters), which she continues to make every year.
While the tradition of distributing and sharing Kuswar during Christmas continues to stay alive, the concept of nuclear families, the lack of time, and the growing convenience of buying treats from local bakeries and home cooks may be contributing to the fading tradition of homemade Kuswar preparation.
Shireen Sequeria, a Mangalorean food blogger, expresses in her blog Ruchikrandhap, " Most of these are deep-fried and have a long shelf life. Since they involve a bit of effort, not too many people make them at home anymore; it is far more simple (economical and time-saving) to just buy some Kuswar from the local bakery a week before Christmas. Gone are the days when kids used to help their mothers make large sums of Kidiyo (Kulkuls/Sweet Dough Curls), Gulio (Rice Marbles), Neurio (Crescent Shaped Sweet Puffs), Kokkisan (Roce Cookies), Rice Laddoos, Pathekaan (Banana Chips), or Tukdi (Diamond Cuts) sitting around the dining table."
The preparation of Kuswar platters not only evokes a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of belonging but also motivates many people to retain this tradition, which can be seen in the efforts of many food bloggers, homecooks, and chefs who talk about their favourite Kuswar treats while sharing recipes and memories of making Kuswar even as they move to a different country or travel far and wide.
Parinita Salian Crasta, a food blogger and photographer who shares and archives Mangalorean recipes on her Instagram blog and other social media platforms, has shared a recipe for her favourite kokkisan or roce cookies and expressed, "These are my favourite part of the Christmas platter at my in-laws place. Now, being a half Crasta, preparing these is even more special for me. These seem difficult to prepare, but if you have the batter sorted, the rest is all about turning on some holiday music and preparing a batch of these for your loved ones. I love to prepare and eat them equally."