Photos by Zuzana Ľudviková

Student association GISA

‘Diwali is our Christmas’

Photos by Zuzana Ľudviková
In many student houses, having dinner together is a daily repeated ritual. Who’s joining in, who’s cooking, and most importantly: what’s for dinner? UKrant stops by to see what’s cooking. This week: student association GISA.
27 October om 10:42 uur.
October 27 at 10:42 AM.
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Door Ana Tudose

27 October om 10:42 uur.
Avatar photo

By Ana Tudose

October 27 at 10:42 AM.

Rajma Dal

a cup of rajma (red kidney beans) 
1.5 onion
2 tomatoes
1 chilli 
tomato purée 
ginger garlic paste 
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
cumin seeds
chilli powder
turmeric powder
garam masala 
coriander powder 
kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)

Wash and soak a cup of rajma (red kidney beans) in water overnight. Boil it the next morning until you can easily crush a kidney bean with your finger. 

Heat some oil in a pan and add a teaspoon of cumin seeds, a bay leaf, cloves, and a cinnamon stick. Toss until it’s slightly brown. Add the chopped onions, one chopped chilli and let it brown. Then add a heaped teaspoon of ginger garlic paste and sauté until the raw smell of the paste goes away. 

Add two finely chopped tomatoes and a bit of tomato purée and cover with a lid until the oil from the tomatoes starts coating the sides of the pot. Add one heaped teaspoon of chilli powder, half a teaspoon of turmeric powder, one heaped teaspoon of garam masala and a teaspoon of coriander powder. Mix and let it simmer for as long as possible. 

Then add your rajma and some water and cover with a lid. Let it simmer for at least 20 minutes. Then add kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves).

‘We have those Dutch bell handlebars that you pull’, says Pradnesh. ‘I ring the doorbell quite forcefully when I know my friend is home, just to annoy her’, he says, laughing. The friend in question is Bhanushree, and she’s hosting tonight’s dinner party.

It’s a special night, because together with their friends from the Indian student association GISA they will serve a full Diwali dinner. This five day festival of lights takes place in early autumn, and starts on a dark new moon evening. The lighting of handmade oil lamps, called diyas, along with fireworks, make it the brightest night of the year.

‘For us, it has the grandeur of Christmas, says Bhanushree, her voice full of nostalgia. ‘This is the time when the whole family gets together.’ The rituals and preparations for the festival begin days or even weeks prior. ‘The house needs to be deep-cleaned’, says Pradnesh. 

New beginnings

Diwali signifies the triumph of good over evil and new beginnings, which is why people buy new things to celebrate. Mostly house appliances, like TVs, but there’s also the fireworks, of course. ‘It’s like the aftermath of the Dutch New Year’s Eve’, describes Madhur. ‘There is fog everywhere for a few days.’ 

For the girls in the house, Bhanushree and Naomi, it’s also a time to dress up. One of them is wearing a flowery dress, the other a stylish yellow one, both with silver patterns on the bodice. 

The food is the main event, though.  

The tension is tangible in the small kitchen. Bhanushree is juggling two frying pans, while Naomi helps with the preparation of the mint chutney. ‘Don’t add too much yoghurt!’ Bhanushree warns as she briefly looks over her shoulder.

‘What are you doing here in the kitchen?’ Pradnesh, the main chef, asks. They start making jokes and giggles fill the kitchen. ‘We’ve become so close that the way we express our love and appreciation in this friendship turns into bullying’, Pradnesh says with a wink.


Naomi smirks, pulling her nose away from a jar. ‘Yikes, this black salt smells so bad.’ There is a rack full of spices. Some of them they brought directly from India, but some specific spices they can also buy in Groningen, says Bhanushree. ‘Especially at Nazar. You really must try the snacks there’, she adds. ‘But you have to go in the morning, they are gone within the hour.’

Footsteps approach the kitchen. It’s their student friend Elisavet from Greece, who drops by for dinner. ‘Take off your shoes! Especially in the kitchen!’ Bhanushree yells, surprised. Their friend never forgot to take them off before. ‘This is not my day, I suppose’, Elisavet replies, quickly switching her shoes for some flip-flops.

The boys move the dinner table to the middle of the room and put up some lights. Not the traditional ones, though. Pradnesh turns on some Indian music. 

‘Oh no, we are out of alcohol’, Naomi sighs from the kitchen. ‘You know that during those festive times, we, as Indians, prefer not to drink. We want to give unconditional respect to religion and culture’, Bhanushree grins. A bit later, Shane, a close Irish friend, saves the night with some Ukrainian vodka. ‘I had to choose between a Russian and an Ukrainian brand’, he says.


After about two hours of cooking, Madhur and Karthik take over. The others start off with the first dish: paneer tikka with mint chutney. Half an hour later, five more dishes come out of the kitchen: kachumber salad, rajma dal, butter chicken, rice and paratha.

A sense of community falls over the table. Everyone is helping everyone. Basmati rice is spooned on plates and on the other side of the table the salad goes from hand to hand. The smell of spices now fills the house. The food is so tasty and the atmosphere is so wholesome, it makes you not want to leave.

‘For us, guests are like gods’, Pradnesh says. ‘And we want to make them feel as such, comfortable and fully welcomed. I remember my mom would give me ‘the look’ if I did not behave properly when we had people over in India.’ ‘Oh yes, the piercing look…’, Madhur remembers. ‘I had that too’, Karthik nods.

‘Usually, foreigners do not really like this’, Bhanusrhee says about the dessert, gulab jamun and rasgulla – a very common dish in India. But Elisavet is very happy to see it again. Bhanushree laughs. ‘My mom was so surprised when she saw her going for the third ball.’

The Groningen Indian Students Association (GISA) is hosting a Diwali event with music, dancing and food in early November. Everyone is welcome to join.

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Photo by Zuzana Ľudviková