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Sweets signal the Diwali holiday at Patel Brothers

By Tom Hanchett
Tom Hanchett
Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/29/16/28/Y2YGE.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - Tom Hanchett
    Nikunj Patel, manager at Patel Brothers in Pineville
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/29/16/28/67XbD.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - Tom Hanchett
    Four kinds of Diwali sweets: boondi (foreground), and (L-R) kaju katli, kaju phool and kaju cutlet.

More Information

  • Patel Brothers

    Where: 10701 Centrum Parkway, Pineville

    Hours: 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily

    Contact: 704-540-2013; www.patelbros.com


Halloween isn’t the only candy-licious holiday this week. Sunday marks the start of the Hindu celebration called Diwali. And the sweets shelves are piled high at Patel Brothers in Pineville.

If you haven’t been to Patel Brothers, in the Centrum shopping cluster opposite Carolina Place Mall, this is a fun time of the year to explore. The store’s motto is “Celebrating Our Food … Our Culture.” As Diwali approaches, Patel Brothers can feel like the busiest place in Charlotte.

For people from India, Diwali is the beginning of the New Year. But it’s also a bit like American Thanksgiving – lots of family visiting, lots of traditional cooking, says store manager Nikunj Patel. “People go to each other’s house to celebrate, light candles.”

Sweets are almost the first thing you see when you walk in the store, arrayed in an open-front chilled case not far from a display of little clay-pot candles.

Bright colors abound. Hot pinks, yellows and greens signal Diwali in much the way that orange heralds Halloween. For instance, there are little yellow spheres of sweet fried dough called boondi – fun to say – with the same grab-a-handful appeal as M&M’s.

Many Diwali sweets make use of cashews. Spelled kaju in the Hindi language, the nuts have been a favorite in India since Portuguese traders brought them from Brazil in the 1500s.

Look for cashew burfi, sweet cakes made with cashew nut powder. Or try kaju cutlet – colorful doughs and cashews, all encased in a sugary exterior. Slice across it like a cutlet and the interior is exposed like a miniature treasure chest.

What’s Patel’s favorite? “Kaju katli, that’s most popular with nearly everybody,” he chuckles. “Cashews and sugar – that’s it.”

Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South: thanchett@museumofthenewsouth.org. Don’t miss the Food from Home section of the museum’s “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibit.

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