12 Traditional Foods for Diwali and the Symbolism Behind Them

woman celebrating diwali with lit candles

Diwali is the ‘Festival of Lights’ that lasts for five days and welcomes the beginning of a new year,  one of the most celebrated holidays in India and among Hindu communities worldwide. It’s a time when families and friends come together to light their homes with earthen lamps called “daiyas’, symbolic of chasing away the shadows of life and inviting prosperity during the upcoming year.

Diwali has many beloved traditions that are rooted in Hindu mythology, including exchanging gifts, lighting firecrackers, and offering prayers to the gods. As with most cultural celebrations in India, this vibrant festival is also all about enjoying traditional foods, especially ‘mithai’, the so-called sweetmeats at the center of every get-together throughout this holiday. 

Traditional Sweet Foods of Diwali

The Hindi phrase “muh meetha kijiye”, meaning “to sweeten one’s mouth”, is heard during celebrations all year long but never more so than during Diwali. Sweet treats hold a special place when ushering in the New Year, representing the victory of light over darkness and the sweetness of life.

One of the most popular traditions for Diwali is to make boxes of mithai to share with loved ones, hoping to spread good wishes and positivity while also sweetening their mouths. This delicious exchange can be traced back centuries and has become an integral part of Diwali’s identity. Many families will begin preparing these special desserts as many as 10 days before the festival. Some of the famous mithai to enjoy while celebrating the New Year include: 

Gulab Jamun

A favorite across generations, Gulab Jamun is a fried ball made from a milk-based dough, then soaked in rose-flavored syrup. They’re golden brown, juicy, and extremely popular for Diwali gatherings as a symbol of warmth and togetherness. 

Kaju Katli

This decadent, diamond-shaped treat made from thin slices of cashew is often garnished with edible silver foil. Cashews have historically been considered an expensive and luxurious ingredient, which makes Kaju Katli a symbol of wealth and prosperity. 


Barfi’s name comes from the Persian word for “snow” due to its delicious, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It’s made from condensed milk, sugar, and flavorful ingredients like coconut, pistachio, cardamom, saffron or mango. 


Jalebi’s distinctive spiral shape and bright orange color makes them a visual treat, similar to the vibrant Rangoli artworks traditionally crafted during the festival. Jalebi is made by deep-frying batter in a tight coil and then soaking in syrup to create a crispy snack that’s oozing with sweetness. 

Motichoor Ladoo

The word motichor comes from the Hindi words for “pearl” and “crushed”, which describes this traditional Indian sweet made from tiny gram flour balls. Motichoor Ladoo is popular at festive celebrations as a symbol of good luck. 

Soan Papdi

This flaky, delicate dessert made from gram flour, sugar, and ghee pulls apart like cotton candy. Soap Papdi often comes in a cube shape and is traditionally packed into festive boxes to be given as a gift to friends and families during Diwali. 

Traditional Savory Foods and Snacks of Diwali

Diwali has become closely associated with sweet treats but there’s also a range of savory foods and snacks that can’t be missing from the festive table. The flavorful dishes enjoyed throughout Diwali offer an amazingly diverse mix of spices and textures reflecting the culture, history, and traditions of India’s different regions. They’re also meant to be shared in large, lively gatherings while ushering in the new year. 


These deep-fried, triangular pastries filled with spicy potatoes, peas, and sometimes meat are a favorite during Diwali. Samosas are often served fresh from the frying pan, accompanied by a chutney or yogurt. Every region of India has its own take on the best fillings, spices, and sauces for preparing this crispy snack. 


Diwali is all about munching on flavorful snacks throughout the festivities, many of which fall under the umbrella of Chivda, also known as Bombay Mix. Chivda is a light, crunchy combination of flattened rice with several other ingredients, such as nuts, dried fruits, and spices like mustard seeds or curry leaves. 

Dahi Bhalla

Dahi Bhalla, also known as Dahi Vada in some parts, is a refreshing dish meant to be a palate cleanser from the rich, indulgent dishes enjoyed throughout the festivities. The most popular variation consists of soft lentil dumplings that have been soaked in water to make them fluffy, smothered in yogurt, and then drizzled with tamarind and green chutney. This Diwali favorite balances many very different flavors, including creamy yogurt, tangy tamarind, and spicy green chutney. 


This fluffy, steamed cake topped with mustard seeds, green chilies, and curry leaves is originally from the western state of Gujarat. Dhokla is made from fermented rice and chickpea flour and is known for having a distinctive flavor that comes from the fermentation process.

Puri and Sabzi

No Diwali celebration is complete without enjoying this classic combination of puffed-up bread and hearty vegetable curries. Puri is deep-fried until golden brown and crispy around the edges then paired with a sabzi, which is usually either potato-based or features a medley of vegetables. This is a comforting meal that fills both the stomach and the soul.

Aloo Tikki

This simple and beloved North Indian snack is made from spiced mashed potatoes that have been shaped into patties, filled with peas or lentils, and then pan-fried. The best Aloo TIkki will be crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and served with different types of chutneys.  Aloo Tikki is popular all year long but it’s also one of the main staples for celebrating Diwali. 

Celebrate Diwali with Help from International Fresh Market

The delicious foods enjoyed during Diwali paint a rich, colorful picture of India’s culinary traditions. As you prepare to celebrate the Festival of Lights, you can simplify your shopping experience by heading to our Indian market in Naperville. We offer authentic flavors, quality ingredients, and everything you need to make your celebration truly memorable. Instead of hopping from store to store, find everything you need under one roof and spend more time enjoying Diwali’s traditions with your family and friends. 

Recent Posts

International Fresh Market

International Fresh Market is a local, family-owned grocery store that serves the Chicagoland community.We are excited to serve the residents of Naperville, Aurora, Warrenville, Woodridge, Plainfield and the surrounding area!