Tag Archives: desserts

Gifting Desserts – Indian Tradition


My informant, AS, is a 19-year-old Indian male who grew up in Mumbai, though he has lived in Southern California for the past three years. His family is Muslim, and he has also had lots of interaction with Hindu culture also. This piece was collected during a facetime call, when I asked him to share some traditions that he has noticed as different between his home culture in India and the US. I refer to myself as SW in the text.


Main Piece:

AS: “So, it is tradition, not just for Indian Muslims but for any Indian, to gift desserts to the people they know, when something good happens to them. Like if I get a new job, it’s gonna be tradition for me to send like a box of sweets to my neighbor, my aunt, my uncle, my friend. It’s just a tradition.”

SW: “So when something good happens to you… then you send stuff to other people.”

AS: Yes… Not just stuff, I have to send like, some sort of dessert.

SW: To how many other people?

AS: That just depends on like… if like, you’re really close with your neighbor you could send it to your neighbor, if you’re not close you’re not obligated to send anything. But like, it could be, just ya know your close family, or it could be the whole fucking world, depends on how close you are with them.


Informant Explanation:

SW: But why do people do it?

AS: I don’t know why they do it, it’s just a thing like the… the saying is like ‘making your mouth sweet,’ that’s what it’s called. Like if you, something good happens to you, it could be anything it could be getting a new job or ya know, getting engaged or something like that. Even getting a promotion or buying a new car.

SW: That’s the reverse of the American thing. Cause the American thing is you send gifts to the person who had something good happen.

AS: Yeah. No, the person to whom it happens has to send. Not gifts, dessert.

SW: I guess like… that’s a way of showing status, right? Cause if something good happens to you, then it’s like well I now have excess to give… would be a way of showing status right?

AS: Not necessarily, no. It’s a… it’s more to do with sharing the joy. Not showing off. 

SW: What kinda desserts? What are we talking here?

AS: Mostly Indian desserts. That’s the tradition.

SW: Like what?

AS: Like… the most common one is (he showed me a picture of kaju katri or kaju katli). That is my favorite fucking dessert. It’s uh… it’s just a sweet. It’s made from like… ground cashews, and you make, like… I don’t know how it’s made it just tastes really nice. 

SW: It looks very good.

AS: Yeah so you get boxes of those, boxes of like, brown balls of fucking sugary flour… 

SW: So is like, Indian culture more focused on like…  ties between, like family and friends than American culture is? It feels like everything is more… 

AS: Ties between family, yes. Like, your… there’s a lot of emphasis on family in Indian culture. Especially Indian Hindu culture, there’s a lot of focus on family and traditions.



As AS mentioned, the tradition of gifting desserts serves to reinforce family ties and important social relationships. Indian culture places a very high importance on these social bonds, especially between family members, and it is therefore important to have traditions and rituals to remind people of these bonds and their obligations to one another. There is probably also an element of reciprocity that is established – since you are sharing your joy, you can expect other people to also share with you.

Sweet Potato Pie

Main description:

The following ingredients were provided by the informant via text message.

RD: “sweet potato, butter, brown sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and pre made pie crust”

AB: “So, who did you learn this recipe from?”

RD: “My mom taught me. She makes them, I think, every year around the holidays, like around Thanksgiving or Christmas mostly, and I think that’s it. But she makes a ton of them. Like seven or eight  huge-ass pies because they’re everyone’s favorite. I know she learned it from my dad’s mom, so her mother-in-law and my grandma, and I think she makes them even more. Like, all the time. Every time we visit her she has a sweet potato pie in the oven because, like I said, it’s everybody’s favorite.”

AB: “What makes your guys’ sweet potato special from, I guess, a normal pie?”

RD: “I mean it’s a normal sweet potato pie. My mom, my grandma don’t use measurements or anything, they just kinda no. That’s why the recipe doesn’t, doesn’t have any. We don’t add anything special if that’s what you mean. Well, I guess my mom uses brown sugar instead of white, which I guess some people don’t. But like what makes it special is that you’re supposed to melt the butter and sugar together in pan before you mix it into the rest of the pie.”

AB: “And that makes it taste different?”

RD: “I mean, yeah. It’s literally everyone in my family’s favorite food. There was this one time my cousin, who was just this little eight or seven year old girl, ate a whole-ass pie by herself. Literally the whole pie. We were all like… how. I guess she just really loved that pie.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “Does this pie have a special meaning to you and your family?”

RD: “I mean, that pie is so much work. You know what stirring potatoes is like, like it’s just so thick that my mom always needed all of us to help. So I guess to me it means all the times that my family has worked really hard together and then all enjoyed the same pie at the end.

It’s funny, because until left Alabama and the South I guess I didn’t realize that sweet potato pie was also like, very much a southern thing? You know? Like I thought everybody had sweet potato pie. So now it makes me think of my family, but also of like the south and all the things that I don’t have here that are more normal in the South.”

Personal interpretation: Sweet potato pie is a common dessert in the south, but almost unheard of elsewhere in the United States. The informant lived in the South his whole life before coming to California for grad school, and this recipe has become emblematic of the cultural divide between the south and the west coast.