This introduction is one of the hardest that I’ve ever had to write. Over the past 24 hours a tragic accident involving Leicester City Football Club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has dominated the headlines. As a Leicester fan of over 20 years this news has hit me hard, as it has everyone else connected to the club.
Although at the time of writing nothing has yet been confirmed, the worst is feared. The official statement is likely to be live after this post is published so you will all no doubt know the outcome. Vichai took the club not only to the top of the Premier League, securing the title, but also to his heart.
The effect that this man has had on this city is like very few others. A warm, kind man who will be forever cherished by those lucky enough to be around the club with him at the helm. It goes without saying, Vichai will be forever loved by everyone associated with Leicester City.
From darkness, we go into light. One of the most popular events on the Leicester calendar is Diwali – one of the largest celebrations in the UK of its kind and even ranking highly with the biggest outside of India, an estimated 35,000 people were said to be attending for the switching on of the lights alone!
Incredibly, I have never been to Diwali. I remember learning about it years ago at primary school and being intrigued by how another culture celebrates a festival. It’s taken me until the age of 31 to make it down to Belgrave Road to join the party.
This is some party! The ‘Golden Mile’ of Leicester is like stepping into another world. Indian jewellers, saree shops and restaurants dominate this stretch of Belgrave Road, The smell of fresh spices fills the air as a giant big wheel overlooks a professional stage set up featuring Bollywood style performances.
I really was in the mood for some Indian street food and it took a little while to figure out how to get it. The restaurants along the street all open up as takeaways, so in effect you just walk in and everything is laid out on a table. Make your choice from the various tempting dishes and get into the Diwali spirit.
The food isn’t expensive either, which makes a street food crawl down The Golden Mile a beautiful reality. Dishes generally hover around the £5 mark with drinks around £1 each. A lot of the food is vegetarian also.
Our first stop on the mile was a shop selling Indian sweets and a few other hot items such as chips and samosas. The place is called Ambicas and their selection of Indian sweet treats bamboozled me completely. Luckily the people there are friendly and will let you know what’s what.
We settled on a Laddu, which is a ball of pistachio, cashew, saffron and almonds encased in a sweet pastry. Two of those cost £3. To be honest, the guy had the sale secured at the first mention of ‘pistachio’. I am a sucker for anything pistachio.
These were no disappointment. In fact, they were absolutely superb. The mix of nuts, saffron and sugar creates a fudgy texture but not sickly sweet. The saffron kind of knocks back that heavy sweetness creating a solid balance. The pastry outside has a great crunch. A great start to the evenings eating.
As the temperature was dropping rapidly, a cup of tea was in order. Everyone was reaching for Masala Tea – with good reason. A cup of this has been on my list to try for ages, now I have, I love it!
The blend of spicing really gives a standard cup of tea a new dimension. The slight sweetness also adds to the addictive qualities of this drink. I’m making this at home 100% but i’m not sure it’ll be as good as these guys make it.
Over the road we went in search a dish near enough everywhere was selling, Chilli Paneer. Shiv Sagar is a newly opened vegetarian restaurant, full to the max when we headed in to pick up our food. Our order could be seen somewhere in amongst the mountain of takeaway containers.
The masses seemed to opt for fries, a crime when such amazing native dishes are on the menu. More fool them I say, this portion of fiery paneer was just the ticket. Fresh as it gets and with a perfect blend of spices wrapped around the fresh cheese, if Shiv Sagar keep banging out food like this then they are onto a winner.
We were starting to get a bit full by this point. Not quite full enough to go without another visit to the Masala Tea stall, damn this stuff is dangerous. It could well be my new favourite thing, perfect for these cold winter nights.
Focus switched to the main stage in anticipation of the big switch on. Mayor Peter Soulsby and MP Keith Vaz were both amongst many to give speeches, largely focused on unity in light of the latest tragedies.
The mood lifted with an incredible firework display – the best free display that we’ve ever had the pleasure to attend. The sombre mood turned to a more joyous one as the lights were switched on illuminating The Golden Mile.
As we headed away from the celebrations, I reflected on my first Diwali experience. I loved the whole feeling of walking into another world. The music, the food, the atmosphere, everything was just so positive and uplifting. Exactly what the community needed after the recent events.
I wish you all a very happy Diwali and cannot recommend this event enough if you happen to be around Leicester during the festivities. Bringing the community together in the best way possible through happiness and togetherness gives everyone a warm feeling – even if the weather is bloody freezing!
Nearest Train Station: Leicester