A small army of mithai awaits hungry Diwali revelers at Maharajah Sweets.
If you have never experienced the pre-Diwali rush in New York’s South Asian sweets shops, you have two more days to partake of mountains of sugary, nutty, dairy-rich mithai (sweets, in Hindi).
In North India, Diwali (aka, the Hindu “festival of lights”) is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil in the Ramayan, a famous Hindu epic. Families gather to share special meals, clay lamps (diyas in Hindi) and firecrackers are ablaze everywhere, and countless boxes of sweets are exchanged.
Variety is the spice of life: a pound of sweets from Maharajah Sweets ($8).
Late fall, when sweets are in high demand for Eid al Adha and several Hindu festivals—especially Diwali, is the best time to buy South Asian sweets in New York. High turnover ensures that the sweets here are unusually fresh and, thus, almost as good as those you might find in India’s best shops (where turnover is always high enough to ensure freshness).
Malai Chum Chums at Maharajah: dairy-based sweets with a sweet cream center.
In the days leading up to Diwali (i.e., this Thursday through Sunday), Maharajah Sweets in Jackson Heights, Queens, closes its dining room and arranges all the tables end-to-end to form a makeshift counter running the entire length of the room. Neatly stacked mounds of fresh sweets in all shapes and colors are laid out along the tables. Customers survey the options and select customized combinations to be packed into gift boxes.
During the Diwali rush, sweets like these coconut jamuns are made continually.
As customers at Maharajah wait to be served, they sip masala chai (gratis!) brewed with milk, sugar, and ample cardamom. Trays of freshly made sweets are continually brought out from the back kitchen to restock dwindling piles of sweets. Even if you’re not celebrating Diwali, the excitement for this much-anticipated, festive occasion is infectious.
Bengali Kalakand : milk + soft paneer cooked into sweet, creamy goodness.
The lines at Maharajah can be long, and the atmosphere verges on frenetic. But braving the Diwali sweets rush is well worth it—if only for the pleasure of sinking your teeth into moist, creamy fresh kalakand (above) that melts at first bite.
Maharajah Sweets, 73-10 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-505-2680
Check out Anne Noyes Saini’s ongoing food + audio projects on SoundCloud.