Most of us first-generation Indian American children of immigrants have fond memories of waking up to the smell of paranthas or dosa cooking in the kitchen, coming home to fresh rajma or sabudana, and finishing off big Indian meals with homemade Indian sweets. We went to school with ICM (Indian Chex Mix) in our lunchboxes instead of Little Debbie cakes. We want kichadi when we’re feeling sick. We know that “salad” can mean chopped cucumbers and tomatoes sprinkled with lime juice and chaat masala.
But guess what: Many of us never learned how to cook the food that our mothers and grandmothers made for us at home. Maybe it was a lack of interest, or lack of skill, or lack of invitation. Or maybe it was all of the above. But now that we’re grown up, living away from our parents, and thinking about raising a family of our own, we want to learn how to make Indian food. And we want to be GOOD at it.
Enter the Indian cookbook. These books are a good introduction to Indian cooking for the beginner Indian chef, or a nice consolidated recipe list for someone who has a range of dishes in their head but sometimes needs a refresher. Plus, the pictures are beautiful, and the sentiment behind the gift is heartfelt. Buy one or all for your Indian bestie getting hitched, or even for someone who isn’t Indian but loves to play around with spices in the kitchen.
Perfect for someone who wants a start-to-finish Indian cookbook, with one place to find all of their favorite recipes.
Indian food is not just a bunch of curries! This is a great option for someone looking to expand their cooking horizons.
Indian food is known for its robust flavor and spices. It takes time to develop those flavors, and that’s why so many of us rely upon slow cookers to make our Indian meals. This cookbook has a slew of recipes just for your slow cooker — perfect for your friend who works 80 hours a week but still wants to channel her inner Padma Lakshmi in the kitchen.
Simple and classic, just like your sorority sister who always has a pristine kitchen despite putting turmeric into basically everything.
Vegan. Need we say more?
The sehrabandi, or sehra for short, refers to the face-covering headdress that many Hindu grooms wear to the ceremony. This headdress looks rather like a miniature hula skirt that is tied around the groom’s head and which shields his eyes during his baraat and the wedding ceremony. In a way, this is like a veil for the groom. The sehrabandi is tied to the groom’s head during a ceremony known by the same name. The groom’s sister or female cousins usually ties the sehra on his head, but in some cultures this differs.
The sehrabandi may be made of flowers, beads, or thin cords, and usually is some combination of white, gold, and silver in color. The veil is thought to protect the groom from evil, which is a nice sentiment. In some cases, the sehra will be removed before the wedding ceremony, mostly because it’s a mild annoyance to the groom.
Not all Hindu wedding ceremonies will involve a sehrabandi. This practice is most common in Punjabi weddings.
Typically held in the days or weeks before the wedding ceremony, the sangeet (sometimes called a “ladies’ sangeet”) is a night of singing, dancing, and merriment. This event was traditionally meant for women only, and was hosted by a bride’s family and friends to send her off to her wedding. The sangeet is the traditional Hindu wedding equivalent of a bridal shower, though gifts for the bride and groom are not mandatory.
In modern times, the sangeet is a co-ed pre-wedding event usually held the night before the wedding ceremony. This event will typically involve performances by guests for the bride and groom; in some cases the bride and groom will even perform themselves! Do you have a special talent, like guitar playing, singing, or dancing? If so, don’t be surprised if the couple being honored asks you to put together a brief performance for their sangeet.
Sometimes the sangeet is combined with the mehndi party (two birds, one stone), but it is also common to see these as two standalone events. If the sangeet and mehndi are combined, don’t be surprised to see women playing the dhol and singing folk songs which poke fun at the bride’s future in-laws and give her advice for how to be a successful wife and daughter-in-law.
Jutti (or jooti, joote, joothe, or jaat) are the elf-like shoes that are traditional for men to wear with Indian clothes. Often called “Punjabi jutti,” this type of footwear is traditionally found in northern India, especially in the Punjab region.
The shoes are relatively simple in construction, featuring a flat wooden or cardboard sole, and sizing can be very hit-or-miss (To ensure you’re buying the right size jutti, you might be asked to trace your foot on a piece of paper and send it to the person buying your shoes for you!). The fronts of the shoes give them their elfish appearance, with a turned-up toe and usually some measure of embroidery or other special detail.
In the days of Cole Haan and Nike, these shoes are usually only worn for special occasions like weddings, and even then only for a short period of time.
Want to buy a pair? Here are some of our favorites:
(Ladies, you can buy jutti, too!)
Roka – traditionally, this ceremony was a meeting of the two families, who exchanged cash and gifts, and then formally gave permission for the couple to meet and discuss marriage. Contemporary couples treat the roka as their engagement ceremony.
Chura – This bridal ceremony is usually held on the morning of the wedding day. The bride’s maternal aunt and uncle present her with a set of bangles to wear during the wedding ceremony.
Haldi – This is a purification ritual performed separately for the bride and groom by their families. Typically, the haldi ceremony occurs a day or two before the wedding.
Jago – This is a fun and festive event that can be seen as the less formal Punjabi version of a more formal sangeet. The word “jago” means “jug,” and during this event friends and family of the couple take turns holding the jago while singing, dancing, and telling jokes.
Sehra bandi – This ritual is performed on the morning of the wedding day at the groom’s family home or accommodation. The groom’s family help his dress in his wedding outfit, particularly the final step of attaching the “sehra” headdress to the groom’s head.
Ghodi Chadna – To ensure the groom’s safe passage to the bride’s town, the groom’s family feeds and adorns his horse (or other transportation), and blesses his travel.
Milni – The ceremonial meeting of all the men from each of the soon-to-be-wedded couple’s family
Joota chupai – This is a very popular tradition that has been widely adopted across many Indian cultures. Near the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, the bride’s female family members try to steal the groom’s shoes (which he has taken off during the wedding ceremony as required by tradition). Throughout the remainder of the evening, the groom’s family attempts to steal back the shoes. If they are unsuccessful, the groom pays a “ransom” for the shoes at the end of the night.
Gift-giving is a common custom in Hindu weddings. The wedding is a celebration, and we give gifts as part of that celebration. Gifts are given to the guests, members of your own family, members of your new in-laws’ family, the priest, and maybe even the vendors. Guests may be small, like wedding favors, or more significant, like saris and jewelry.
Kalichari are an example of one of the gifts you might expect to give or receive at a Hindu wedding. The term “kalichari” commonly refers to gold, silver, or cash given by the groom to his female relatives or to his bride’s female relatives. Small silver rings are a nice gift for younger female relatives, but it is now common to see grooms giving out cash and jewelry as kalichari. Yet another reason we love going to Indian weddings!