Tuesday 23 July 2013

Food from Fiction: Monsoon Wedding - An Indian Wedding Feast

I regularly take part in Food 'n' Flix, a blogging challenge which involves watching a particular movie and then cooking something inspired by that film. This month the film, chosen by Heather at Girlichef, was Monsoon Wedding - a story of relationships against the backdrop of a traditional Indian wedding in Delhi. I hadn't seen the film before and it wasn't really my sort of film - while there is an overarching plot, about a father organising an expensive wedding for his daughter who is entering into an arranged marriage - there are other stories and family dramas. I found it a little hard to follow at times as there were so many characters as part of the extended families, and the dialogue is a mixture of English, Hindi and Punjabi, so if I took my eyes off the screen I often missed subtitles. But overall the film is beautifully evocative of India and well acted. The main reason I enjoyed this film though was that it brought back some personal memories, of when I attended a wedding in India myself.

Like the big photo at the top of this post? That's not a still from the movie... it's a photo from my own camera, of my good friends Vikram and Prarthana's marriage ceremony. They have very kindly allowed me to share a few photos with you, and given me some of the recipes so I could recreate the food we ate at their wedding.

Both Vik and Prarthana live in the UK but have family in India and so the wedding was held in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Six of us - friends from university and partners - decided to take a trip to India and attend their wedding (there was also a big celebration in the UK for those who couldn't make it to India).

The film Moonsoon Wedding is set in Delhi, which was the first stop on our trip - I don't think I will ever forget the sights and sounds. It was so busy even just trying to walk down the street....

Cows are sacred in Hinduism and freely roam the streets - other traffic always gives way! Obviously beef isn't eaten by members of the religion, and a lot of people in India are vegetarian - the wedding was fully vegetarian with no alcohol either.

From Delhi, we took a train to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal. It's absolutely awe-inspiring and one of my favourite landmarks, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to visit here. I planned our trip so we would stay just a few minutes walk from the Taj, and so we entered not long after it opened at 6am - the best way to avoid the crowds. I think it's quite rare to be able to take a photo like this without hundreds of other tourists in it. My ex took this photo so kudos to him.

We also stopped off in Gwalior, which had a huge hill-top fort that we had fun exploring. Finally we arrived in Bhopal for the wedding.

Events that form part of traditional Indian wedding ceremonies last for several days; we were invited to three different parts. I really enjoyed watching the Mehndi scenes in Monsoon Wedding as it brought back some great memories. The Mehndi is an event where women who are attending the wedding have henna designs applied to their hands, and sometimes feet. The bride spends hours having her entire arms and legs covered in intricate designs; her groom's initials are hidden somewhere amongst the detail. Here's a picture of me with henna designs on my hands.

Later that evening, friends and family take it in turns to provide the entertainment. The groom proved he had an excellent singing voice, and his brothers, father and mother all sang - it must have been a little outside of the comfort zone for those who live in the UK and don't normally do this kind of thing! The night before in Gwalior, fuelled by alcohol at the first bar we had actually found on our whole trip, we decided to do a rendition of Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" as it was one of the groom's favourite songs. We had two microphones between the six of us, and no backing music - I'm not sure how well it went down but everyone seemed to be having fun! Later we were dancing and some of the bride's cousins demonstrated a few moves - here the action we are doing, we were told, resembles screwing in a lightbulb!

The next night, the big wedding reception took place - the ceremony itself was the following morning. We arrived at a hotel to find the grounds had been transformed with coloured lights and many different food stalls - it reminded me a little of a Cambridge May Ball and was wonderful. The bride and groom wore elaborate outfits and sat on the two red chairs you can see at the centre of the photo, receiving their guests and having photos taken.

The next morning was the ceremony, which was conducted in Hindi and involved several different traditions - for instance, the bride and groom's wrists being tied together with red string (I wonder if that's where the phrase tying the knot comes from); and a scene before the bride arrives, where the groom declares he doesn't want to get married and will devote his life to the pursuit of aesthetic beauty (luckily our friend told us in advance so we knew it wasn't for real!) and the bride's father must offer him various traditional gifts to 'persuade' him to stay. The bride was carried in on the shoulders of her male relatives and had so many flowers woven into her hair - you can see on the left of the photo below. There are so many other details I could describe that I will be here all day - so I just want to thank my friends again for extending an invitation to their wedding and allowing us to share in such a wonderful experience.

After the ceremony we sat down to a meal, where we were served small amounts of many different dishes, on a large flat banana leaf. As the wedding was a couple of years ago, I asked Prarthana to remind me of what some of these dishes were and she very kindly sent me links to a few recipes. She told me that on this banana leaf there are deep fried banana chips (deemed a savoury food), avial (vegetable curry), potato curry, beans with coconut, parippu vada (lentil fritters), popadum, rice payasam or pudding, boiled rice and sambar and lemon rice. I also remember eating jalebi - a sort of deep fried sweet that is bright orange in colour.

I'd love to have recreated the entire banquet but lack of time and the hot weather have prevented me, so I just chose a couple of dishes to make: avial vegetable curry and jalebi.

Avial (Southern Indian mixed vegetable curry)
I used this recipe as a base but left out some of the vegetables I don't like, and unfortunately despite trying several supermarkets I couldn't find any curry leaves (in one I found the shelf but they were out of stock). I also forgot to add the yogurt at the end - though I found from my trip to India that curries often aren't served with the sort of sauce we are used to in this country, and I think this curry worked quite well 'dry'. So this isn't a particularly faithful reproduction of the recipe but I did the best that I could!

To serve one, you need:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin (or 1 tsp cumin seeds, but I didn't have any)
1/2 onion, sliced
1 green chilli, sliced in half lenghways
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
salt, to taste
1 carrot, chopped, or a handful of mini Chantenay carrots
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
I used some cubed butternut squash that I had previously roasted; the recipe recommends green beans and frozen peas.
Squeeze of pureed ginger 
1 tsp creamed coconut
6 curry leaves
3 tbsp plain yogurt

Heat the oil and fry the onion and chilli. Then add the turmeric and salt.

Add the carrot, potatoes and any other vegetables. You'll need to add enough water to make sure the vegetables don't stick; cook until tender.

Add the ginger, coconut and curry leaves and cook for a few minutes, then stir in the yogurt - though if you forget the yogurt it still tastes pretty good!


I decided to make this for dessert; Jalebi is apparently popular on special occasions like birthdays, weddings and festivals. I found this recipe online. I actually used a quarter of the quantities given below and still made plenty.
2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup plain yogurt
vegetable oil for deep frying
sugar syrup or 1 cup sugar
few strands saffron
1/4 tso cardamom powder
a dab of orange food colouring

Mix the flour, baking powder and yogurt and leave overnight to ferment. 

The recipe I used explains how to make sugar syrup but I already had some in a bottle. Mix with a couple of strands of saffron and ground cardamom- though I've never been able to get hold of this so had to use cardamom seeds which are actually quite hard to crush. You can also add a little orange food colouring.

Spoon the batter into a piping bag and snip off the end. Heat a couple of inches of oil in a pan and when hot, carefully pipe thin lines of the batter into the oil, ideally in a swirly pattern - the jalebi I ate at the wedding was shaped like a knot and was crispy and sticky. I'm not entirely sure why mine didn't turn out like that - the batter came out in a thicker line to start with, then it puffed up when it hit the oil.

As soon as they have browned which will only take a couple of seconds, lift out of the oil with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl of sugar syrup to coat. Serve warm.

  • I've enjoyed sharing my photos from India and I hope you've enjoyed reading! And if you're interested in Food 'n' Flix, I'm guest hosting in August so visit my blog on August 1st to find out which film I've chosen.


  1. What an amazing experience! I would love to be invited to a traditional Indian wedding ceremony. Thank you so much for sharing the photos with us...and YES, that shot of the Taj Mahal is awe-inspiring to say the least. I had no idea that the groom's initials were hidden in the bride's henna design...how cool. I love jalebi, and the curry sounds amazing, as well!

  2. I am so glad you shared these photos. What a great experience. You detailed a lot of the traditions. I learned a lot. Great post!

  3. What a wonderful trip and a beautiful wedding to get to attend. Both the curry and the jalebi look amazing. ;-)

  4. Hello, you are very welcome to put a link to this blog post on your page, but I would rather you didn't reproduce the entire text on your site without linking back to my page, thanks.


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