Indian Wedding Food: From Halwais To Handcrafted Feasts
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Weddings in India have been, by far, one of the most elaborate social affairs. And food has been at the centre of it all. Food at Indian weddings has come a long way. Being one of the most important elements of the festivities, the preparation of the food is done in the best possible manner to please the guests. Up until three decades ago, the food at weddings was mostly prepared by family members or professional halwais instead of the specialised caterers or "food designers" that we see today. Guests were invited to sit on the floor in many households at the time and were served a feast by the family members themselves.

Gradually, this tradition faded, and the idea of hiring a skilled cook or caterer emerged. From one main course, the culture of three courses for a wedding meal was introduced, which included appetizers, the main course, and dessert. While the scale of the feast was the same, the food at weddings in India differs from the north to the south. The type of food served was determined more by the region and season of the year than by traditional foods. So, in the northern region, such as Kashmir, one can find the main dish of roti, dum aloo sabzi, dal, and sevaiyaan, while in Jaipur, specialties of dal baati, bhakri, and churma would treat the taste buds. In the south, the celebration wouldn’t be complete without rice in all of its forms, and payasam would conclude the feast.

We would notice a significant change in the way wedding food is planned and served if we went back 6-7 years. There has been an exponential rise in the use of food design menus to create a surreal experience. This is when food curation and professional catering started to boom, and fascinating culinary trends became a style statement at weddings. Sheetal Mehrotra, who has been in the business for over 10 years, speaks about the trends that have stayed and said, "From a mix of sweet, sour, soft, and crunchy foods paired with a range of exotic and traditional drinks like mocktails and shakes to a fare of various ethnic cuisines from all around the world, including regional Indian as well as Italian, Mexican, Lebanese, and Chinese, made its way to grander weddings."

Live pasta stations have become a mainstay, even today, where food is prepared in front of you to absolute perfection. Speaking of desserts, one can find anything they wish for, from fresh fruit creams to falooda, pastries, ice creams, puddings, and even cotton candy at weddings.

However, many regional sections of India still hold their traditional wedding feasts close to their hearts. Himachali Dham, for instance, is a saatvik vegetarian thali that forms an integral part of weddings and other celebrations. The dham is made up of seven to eight dishes that are made without onion or garlic and served on a leaf platter. The dishes are all about locally available ingredients and include madra, a yoghurt-based rajma dish; then there is chana dal; kadhi; a meetha bhaat (sweet rice); mithdee; and boondi. It ends with a buttermilk called jhol. Because it is a rice-based feast, the dham is served without bread. The popularity of Himachali dham has gone from being just a temple fare to finding its way into banquets and other grand wedding festivities.

Reena Mathur, a home chef who used to prepare Kayastha-special delicacies at home back in the 1980s for weddings in her community, today has a specialised catering business. Mathur’s specialities include mutton kofte, parsinde, and mutton pulao, and anyone who has had the privilege of eating her home-cooked meals swear by her skills. Mrs. Reena echoes the thought that the wedding food business has taken a 360-degree spin and is now coming back to the roots of intimate, home-bound weddings, where families want the flavour of originality and tradition in their menus. "The trend where people spent lavishly on menus to include global cuisines and exotic delicacies at their weddings has now mellowed down, especially post-Covid, thanks to the trend of intimate weddings," she said, adding that with the guest list becoming smaller and more intimate, people spend money to bring back lost recipes and dishes on their menu. Not only does it make the menu unique, but it also lets each community add a hint of their cultural history to it.

Mathur recalls how one of her clients wanted to have a live counter of Kulle Ki Chaat at their wedding since their roots were in Old Delhi. For the unfamiliar, Kulle Ki Chaat is a potato-based chaat where kulle refers to small bowls cut out of potatoes. It is filled with fruits, spices, and herbs. Read more about it here. Besides, people have also embraced the idea of designing food for weddings with the environmental concern of zero waste. As the wedding industry expands, consider how food shapes people and brings them closer to their roots in the face of changing trends.