Preparing for the annual Hindu Diwali celebration of lights is no easy task, especially for the restaurant many consider the place to go for coveted celebration sweets.
It takes All Indian Sweets & Restaurant at the corner of 49th Avenue and Main Street in the Punjabi Market area nearly a month to prepare for the sheer volume they need to make. Sweets are an important element of Diwali, a five-day festival that ended Tuesday.
Owner Steve Ram said although they do regularly sell sweets at their restaurant, they make 50 times more during the festival.
“Probably over 100 kinds,” said Ram. “You’re looking at thousands of pounds. We were going through like 50 to 100 pounds every 20 to 30 minutes over the weekend.”
The sweets go on display the week prior to the official end of Diwali on Nov. 13, but it continues for the following week as well. Ram sets up special tables to display the hundreds of varieties made in-house by chefs from various regions of India. The main pastry chef brings knowledge of hundreds of different types.
“Our pastry chef’s background is in making sweets, so that’s where he gets so much diverse knowledge in how to make each different type of sweets.”
The tables of sweets greet customers as they enter through the front doors. A regular customer and student at nearby Langara College, Jasmine Stotz, described the display: “It’s very bountiful, like there is never-ending sweets.”
The most popular amongst the hundreds during the festival is called gulab jamun — a ball of sugar, flour and milk deep-fried in oil, then fried in hot syrup. Most varieties are made with a base, called bharfi, of a rich condensed milk.
From there, other ingredients are added including almond, coconut, pistachio, cashew and other nuts, as well as carrot, mango, milk cake and chick pea varieties. Some take as long as 20 hours to make, particularly the milk-based ones, but they all have one thing in common — they’re incredibly sweet.
“They’re very sweet, definitely for someone with a sweet tooth. Some people who aren’t into desserts, they are so sweet and don’t like them much, but I really, really do,” said Stotz. “They’re always very fresh and well done.”
The need for making such an abundance is in part that people just like the flavour. But according to Ram, it’s more than about just satisfying a sweet tooth. It’s about bringing family together. “In some cultures when you’re celebrating, you go and take a gift. In the Indian community you take sweets,” he said. “People pray and take sweets to people’s houses. That’s why we go through it like crazy.”
And as a shop that focuses on cooking food that tastes like what Indian families would cook at home, the community really digs in. “We get a lot of community support, being a location that’s been here for 30 years.”