Festive goodies, from mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival to logcakes for Christmas, are getting more newfangled and fancy every year.
For the upcoming Deepavali celebrations, some Indian restaurants in Singapore are putting a twist on the traditional Indian sweets known as mithai.
The sweets - symbols of happiness and good luck - are commonly exchanged as gifts among family and friends during the Festival of Lights, which marks the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.
With less than three weeks to Deepavali, which falls on Oct 29, at least five restaurants have introduced novel and exotic flavours.
For these restaurants, up to 70 per cent of their mithai business comes from corporate orders.
Traditional flavours are milk- and nut-based, and the sweets come in varieties such as burfi (milk-based sweets), ladoo (flour- and gheebased balls) and jalebi (deep-fried flour batter drenched in syrup).
Punjab Grill, a northern Indian fine-dining restaurant in Marina Bay Sands, is debuting four "modern" flavours this year - including blueberries and cardamom, and Darjeeling green tea and pistachios.
Its corporate chef Javed Ahamad, 35, says: "More customers are younger, well-travelled and keen to trynew flavours of mithai."
He adds that mithai sales have been increasing steadily in the past four years, with 1,700 boxes sold last year.
Rang Mahal in Pan Pacific Singapore has added two new flavours of burfi - dates and mixed nuts, and vanilla and almond with coconut flakes.
Its senior restaurant manager Suryapal Singh Negi, 36, says: "While restaurant sales have dropped by 10 per cent this year, I think that mithai sales will not be affected as Deepavali is a once-a-year occasion."
Over at one-Michelin-starred The Song of India in Scotts Road, executive chef Manjunath Mural, 43, has rolled out three new flavours - betel nut leaf and green apple; Mandarin orange with ginger and saffron; and dark chocolate with macadamia nut and cardamom.
Although demand for its mithai is rising by 20 per cent year-on-year, the restaurant is taking steps this year to ensure that sales remain "steady" amid a weak economic landscape. The starting price of a box of 15 sweets is $39+, compared with $49+ for a box of 20 last year.
A spokesman says: "We want to ensure that our prices are realistic. With a lower price point, our boxes of sweets can be more attractive to those who are looking to buy them in bulk for clients and staff."
At some restaurants, though, prices have gone up by 5 to 10 per cent compared with last year. These establishments cite reasons such as rising costs of manpower and raw ingredients and add that they are spending on more ornate packaging.
For instance, at Yantra by Hemant Oberoi in Tanglin Mall, a 20-piece mithai set comes in lacquered wooden boxes, with new flavours such as Keseriya Apple, an apple-shaped almond and saffron burfi. The set costs $69, compared with $65 for 24 pieces last year.
Yantra assistant general manager Dharmendra Singh, 38, says the bulk of the price hike comes from the more elaborate packaging. The box, fitted with a mirror, can also be used to store jewellery. This is similar to the ornate mooncake boxes seen in recent years.
"Customers want to have practical uses for the boxes after consuming the mithai and they want a premium look as they are presenting them as gifts," explains Mr Singh.
In terms of sales, he adds that it has been a slow start, with about a 10 per cent drop in early-bird sales. Inquiries are also coming in a few weeks later, compared with last year.
At Shahi Maharani North Indian Restaurant in Raffles City, more attention and cost have also gone into the design of its two-tiered treasure chest of drawers that house its mithai, including a new flavour, Coconut Almond ladoo.
Its owner Chitra Mirpuri, 40, says: "Mithai offerings are getting as crazy as the mooncake season, which is filled with modern- looking boxes and flavours, and everybody is looking for ways to differentiate himself."
While she adds that she has not seen a drop in sales, she notes that corporate customers have become more budget-conscious.
"They want to maintain the gifting tradition, but are looking for a better deal," she says.
Customers are receptive to the more diverse flavours of mithai.
Tuition teacher Vasunthara, 35, who usually buys traditional mithai, such as milk peda, from Komala Vilas in Serangoon Road, says: "I am keen to try the new flavours as long as they do not taste too strange. It is nice to have more variety."
Where to buy mithai
SHAHI MAHARANI NORTH INDIAN RESTAURANT
Of the eight types of mithai (from $40+ for 16 pieces) at Shahi Maharani, the Coconut Almond ladoo is new. The white spheres are made with almond powder, sugar syrup and coconut flakes, before being dusted with desiccated coconut.
Other popular flavours are Mango Surprise, a blend of white chocolate, milk and mango essence; and Chocolate & Hazelnut - a festive take on Ferrero Rocher, with hazelnut powder, sugar syrup and dark chocolate rolled in a ball and coated with crushed hazelnuts.
Where: 03-21B Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road
Veteran chef Hemant Oberoi has come up with two new flavours. Keseriya Apple is a hand-moulded apple-shaped burfi made with ground almonds and saffron and painted with saffron water. The other newcomer is Chequered Burfi, a tapestry of hazelnut, pistachio, almond and cashew nuts.
The restaurant sells four other flavours. Popular flavours are the Besan ladoo, which has Bengal gram flour, sugar and green cardamom powder; and Pista Sona Burfi, which has ground pistachios. Prices start at $39 for 12 pieces.
Where: 01-28 Tanglin Mall, 163 Tanglin Road
Open: Noon to 3pm, 6.30 to 10pm (weekday); noon to 3pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm (weekend)
Info: Call 6836-3088 or go to www.yantra.com.sg, order two days in advance, till Oct 29
Four out of its six mithai flavours are new. Three of the new flavours are Darjeeling green tea and pistachio katil perfumed with fennel; blueberry burfi made with cashew powder and cardamom; and macadamia nuts and saffron swirl roll with rose-petal marmalade.
The fourth new flavour may entice fans of motichoor ladoo. It is a contemporary version of the sweetened chickpea flour ball, refashioned in a cube and topped with roasted flaxseed.
Prices start at $68 for 18 pieces.
Where: B1-01A The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue
The restaurant offers five flavours, two of which are new. They are vanilla and almond burfi coated with coconut flakes; and mixed nuts with dates that are chock-full of roasted almonds, pistachios and cashews.
The other flavours are roasted acacia crumble with cashew nuts and spices; pistachio sprinkled with gold dust; and pureed mango dressed up in silver leaf.
Prices start at $65+ for 21 pieces. The Premium Box ($108+ for 40 pieces of mithai and four savoury snacks) comes in an elegant flower-themed box.
Where: Rang Mahal: Level 3 Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard; and Table by Rang Mahal: Naumi Hotel, 41 Seah Street
Open: Rang Mahal: Noon to 2pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm daily; Table by Rang Mahal: 11am to 11pm daily
Info: Call 6333-1788 (Rang Mahal) or 6403-6005 (Table by Rang Mahal) or go to rangmahal.com.sg, order at least four working days in advance, till Oct 30
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