During the Hindu festival of Diwali, intricate neon-hued sand decorations called rangoli embellish the entrances of homes across India and the diaspora, their presence intended to ward off evil and usher in good fortune. At a recent Diwali dinner party at the Mumbai restaurant Masque, its owner, Aditi Dugar, 40, and chef, Varun Totlani, 31, paid homage to this tradition by welcoming their guests with an edible play on rangoli: slices of cured barramundi from the Andaman Islands, in the northeastern Indian Ocean, topped with colorful garnishes like yellow fennel flowers, radish microgreens and red pomegranate arils.
“Diwali is the most important festival for us; it’s our new year,” Dugar said. In Mumbai, celebrations for the occasion can be big, impersonal affairs, but for this event, she kept her guest list to 13 people — just enough to fill the counter at Masque’s test kitchen, Masque Lab. Hosting a small group, she said, felt like “a sigh of relief.”
Masque, which opened in 2016 and has since become one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants, is known for its modern Indian cuisine highlighting ingredients and techniques from around the country (a cucumber, tomato and mango salad might be topped with pickled Goan seaweed; dessert might be a sorbet Popsicle made with cactus from Rajasthan). And the five-course tasting menu for the Diwali meal, prepared by Totlani, was no different — though there were some tweaks to the service. “Usually we explain every dish,” said Dugar. “But this was a party; we wanted it to be casual.” She also added a few colorful accents, like red velvet drapes and bright flowers, to the otherwise muted industrial-style private dining room.
The night of the event, as guests contended with the Mumbai traffic, Dugar lit dozens of diyas — festive tea lights that symbolize the victory of light over darkness in Hindu culture — that lined the doorway. And by 8, the room was full of people dressed in glittering saris and tailored kurtas. They snacked on passed canapés including pani poori (crisp shells of fried semolina dough) filled with spiced avocado mousse, before sitting down for the feast. “If somebody came to a Diwali party at my home, I’d want it to be grand,” said Dugar, “and Masque is my second home.”