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fasting food

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I thought we'd had a specific topic on this on the forum, but doing a search I can't seem to find one although the subject does crop up in threads like this one:


I've been interested in the subject for some time now, mainly because of the odd ingredients that seem to crop up in upvas khana, the fasting foods which aren't the contradiction they seem. While there are extreme fasts in the Indian tradition when neither food nor water is taken (nirjala vrat), the more common sort is where certain types of food are abstained from.

There are many different variations on what is and isn't allowed, but the most common distinction is between "foods from the plough", meaning cultivated crops like cereals, and "foods of fruits" which include fruits themselves, but also roots and tubers of various kinds and some other odd ingredients like water chestnuts. Some of these ingredients can be dried and made into flours, so the lack of cereals is not felt as strongly - you can even get a 'fasting pizza'!

More than the ingredients though, fasts are interesting for the light they shed on social customs and hierarchies and the role that food comes to play in these. The major source of academic study on this is R.S.Khare's The Hindu Hearth & Home which I have finally got down to reading and it is really fascinating (though mostly focused on North India).

We're bang in the middle of Shravan, the fasting season now. This is actually a pretty good season to be a non-religious foodie in India since you can both eat the fasting foods at the few restaurants that make them, or at the houses of suitably spiritual old aunties - and the price of chicken is also at an annual low! I've written an article on the subject, which I'll give a link for.

But I'd also be really interested in hearing the experiences of others on this forum with fasting - have you done it, or do you have family members who do it? Do you make special fasting recipes in your family? Any examples of the fasting regimes that members of your family followed? Have you tried keep such fasts in other countries? Any idea if these fasting ingredients could be used in other contexts?

Vikram (link to me article below)


Somewhat annoyingly the editors have chopped off my concluding lines which I think made an interesting point about fasting foods, so here they are:

These days, hopefully, more equality prevails, and some husbands agree to keep karva chauth along with their wives. (Or there’s the Cadbury Perk ad where the husband encourages his wife to eat early). That might seem like a way to acknowledge the benefits of tradition, without its restrictive aspects. Similarly the traditional eating of phalahar foods could be a way of acknowledges our long lost hunter-gatherers ancestors – and remember this is the season for ancestor worship - who depended on the fruits of the forests and the roots we dug from the grounds before we learned the secrets of cultivation.

That’s why we go back to those archaic foods we would have got from the wild like water-chestnuts and amaranth, even if the rest of the year we’re happy to eat the cultivated foods. The chewiness of saboodhana khichri, the earthy appeal of singhada and rajgira puris are worth eating both for their taste and as an annual affirmation of our roots. The phalahar pizza though is perhaps best given a miss.


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A good indian store in the US is an easy way to make *fast* food!

Mordan is something I always liked (using upvas salt), rajgeera laddoos, fruits, milk and upvas khichdi (made out of tapioca(???)).

Chikki ofcourse. Cant think of anything else.


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I have known a few "suitably spiritual old aunties" here in the US that rely heavily on buckwheat flour for things like puris or pakoras. The new world faux-grain quinoa has also become popular I think.

Many of the people here in the US following these fasts are ISKCON devotees. One of their standard preparations for the ekadashi is called "Gauranga Potatoes". It is an east-west dish, a sort of gratin of potatoes that includes paneer and soured cream. This is flavored with turmeric, hing and rosemary. Sometmes this is made with colocasia or plantain as well.

Edward Hamann

Cooking Teacher

Indian Cooking


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I was just speaking to chef Ananda Solomon at the Taj President here in Bombay, where they serve some upvas items like saboodhana khichidi at their Konkan Cafe restaurant. He brought out some aspects of upvas food which I didn't know about like the fact that in the strictest sense the restrictions on the ingredients used extended even to how those ingredients were grown.

So the special plants used for upvas food were sometimes grown in separate plots of land, often close to the village temple. And one couldn't use just any fertilizer or manure to grow them, particularly since these might include fish meal or other non-vegetarian products. Instead only decomposing vegetal matter could be used.

He drew a slightly distant parallel with the 'qurbani ka bakra', the sacrificial goat for Bakri-Id in the Muslim community which has to be raised in the house almost like a family pet, before it goes for slaughter - a surefire prescription for childhood traumas-cum-harsh-lessons-about-life! Isn't there a similar Jewish or Eastern European tradition about a carp in the bathtub for Rosh Hashannah/Christmas?

The other interesting point he made was that for upvas food coconut oil was preferred to peanut oil since the latter would have been ground in traditional oil presses through the labour of cows that had been subjected to stressed labour to do it.


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Very interesting article and observations Vikram. My mom would know a lot more about fasting food than I do. I used to fast once a month for Sankashthara Chaturthi - I wouldn't eat anything until the rising of the moon, after which I'd have a home-cooked vegetarian meal without garlic and onions. Some people observe only the Sankashti that falls on a Tue; my cousin being one of those people would not eat any salt that day.

That's my modest input to the discussion - I'd be able to contribute a lot more if you'd asked me about feasting :rolleyes:


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I'd also be really interested in hearing the experiences of others on this forum with fasting - have you done it, or do you have family members who do it? Do you make special fasting recipes in your family? Any examples of the fasting regimes that members of your family followed? Have you tried keep such fasts in other countries?

I remember my family observed different types fasting days- some partial fasting, others total fasting till sundown. And as Suman observed only vegetariam food cooked without any garlic or onions was served.

Tthe eleventh day of month on the lunar calendar —Ekaadashi—was a day of special observance for my mother and aunts. During certain months of the year there were important ekadashis like Guruvayoor Ekadashi when even children were made to observe partial fasting. On those days no rice was cooked at home. Other grains, such as wheat, finger millet and wild rice were cooked at lunch time. Supper was always light, either uppuma with cracked wheat or dosa made with wheat flour (I am talking about pre-chappathi days in Kerala). To coax children to oberve this fast my aunt used to offer to make a sweet with wheat flour on these days.

Unmarried girls used to observe total fating, not even water, on Mondays and ate after the evening prayers at Siva temples. They were served tender coconut water and finger bananas offered at the temple. I was not able function without my glass of decoction coffee in the morning, and have never observed this fast.

The month of Dhanu on the Malayalam calendar falls between mid -December to mid-January. On the day when the new moon and the star named Tiruvathira coincide in the month of Dhanu we celebrate Tiruvathira festival. On makeeram, the day before Tiruvathira, mothers observe partial fasting for the well being of their children. A special dish, Ettangadi, is prepared as an offering to goddess Parvathi. Eight different kinds of root vegetables and plantains are fire roasted to prepare this dish. Later it is served to all the women and girls of the extended family. Tiruvathira is a day of partial fasting for women and girls. They observe this for the well being of their husbands and would-be husbands. They consume only dishes prepared with grains such as chama and wheat and vegetables, bananas and coconut. Certain special dishes—both sweet and sour Koova Varattiyathu, Tiruvathira Puzukku, Tiruvathira Koottu, and Koova Paayasam, are also prepared on this occasion.

Although I prepare some of these special dishes I have not tried to keep up these fasts in the United States.


Ammini Ramachandran


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Our family day of fasting was on Shivaratri , and it was total fasting till sunset ( not even water if possible ) followed by a very light meal of fruits and upma.

This was followed by keeping awake the whole night . There were discourses at the temple , classical music and dance concerts and even mythological movies on TV :wink: all through the night.

I do try and fast wherever I am , which is relatively easy considering that the food I have at the end of it is very simple but what I do miss is the atmosphere which went along with it back then.

Edited by Spiceroute (log)

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