In honour of golden, crunchy delights: Maska Maarke with Kunal Vijayakar
How far back in time does frying with oil go? It’s hard to tell, but I’ll bet anything that we did it first. After all, the puri has roots in the Vedic era.Updated: Jul 27, 2018 21:28 IST
You show me one man on earth who can put his hand on his heart and swear on the memory of his sainted mother that he honestly does not like deep-fried food and I will go on a raw food vegan diet this very instant. It’s unfathomable.
I accept that you may have trained your mind to bear an aversion or antipathy to deep fried foods, but deep down in your heart, where it really matters, there is no way anyone can dislike the hot, crunchy, golden taste of batter and crust.
And there is no greater fan of deep-frying than the Americans. They will batter-fry literally anything. Burgers, chicken, bananas, potatoes, Snickers bars, Oreos, cheesecake, cupcakes, jam sandwiches, and whatever else you can put in your mouth.
And who do you think taught the Americans to batter-fry? For that matter, who do you think taught the whole world to batter-fry? In my opinion, we have. I bet you even the Japanese tempura was exported there from India.
How far back in time does frying with oil go? It’s hard to tell, but Roman authors from the 1st century CE have described the frying of eggs. Writing in the Middle Ages, Cervantes and Chaucer both describe cooking in oil. Proverbs from the 14th century refer to “frying in one’s own grease” and painter Diego Velázquez depicted an old woman frying eggs in his painting in the early 1600s.
As for the Japanese, think about it. Deep-frying is not really part of Japanese culinary tradition. Stir-frying, maybe. But deep-frying? They must have learned it from somewhere. In fact the word tempura or hiryōzu is said to be of Portuguese origin. And the Portuguese traded with Japan from India…
I think we in India have been deep frying way before anyone else because the puri, that delicious deep-fried flattened bread, has roots way in Vedic times and falls in the category of pucca Khanna (food made using ghee), the medium through which sacrificial offerings were believed to reach the gods.
I believe the puri isn’t our only ancient fried food. I’m convinced the humble pakora or bhajiya or bonda was right there with the puri in Vedic times.
When you travel across our country and visit umpteen home cooks as I have, you realise the pakora is literally everywhere. Everyone makes pakoras. What’s more. Hindi films made it a huge parameter to test whether your mother loves you, and social media narcissists and Facebook ‘meformers’ have glamourised the pakora as the hottest thing to do when it rains.
In my Maharashtrian home, we grew up calling it a bhajiya. At home we made it quite simply. We just chopped a few vegetables, dipped them in a bright yellow besan (gram flour) batter and let them bubble in really hot vanaspati or oil. It’s no surprise that the potatoes tasted best.
We fried thinly sliced discs of potatoes, stuffed big green chillies, rings of onion, raw banana, brinjal, even spinach leaves dunked in the besan mixture, which was spiced with chilli powder, ajwain and mixed with water.
While the North is full of deep-fried goodies like kachoris and puris and vadas, Mumbai is where I have eaten the most kinds of pakoras. Starting with the great Maharashtrian batata vada. What is it, if not a big fat pakora? Boiled potatoes, mashed and stirred in a tempering of oil, turmeric, green chilli, curry leaves, mustard seeds, garlic and methi seeds, then batter-fried.
I know that there are a few acclaimed vada-pav makers. But stop at any corner stall in Mumbai and if he is dishing out freshly made batata vadas or pakoras, in a reasonably good cooking oil, they will taste as good as any served by the other virtuosos. It’s probably the most can’t-go-wrong food available on the streets of our city.
The same street vendors will also sell you potato bhajiya, onion bhajiya and ‘mixed pakoras’. The really crispy, slightly browned mixed ones are irresistible. They are made of chopped onions and chillies flavoured with masala and then mixed in a slightly dry batter of besan. The consistency allows you make small balls or lumps, which are then obviously deep-fried. With some green chutney and fried, salted chillies these are the best Mumbai monsoon snack.
But the pakoras that turn me on like a light-bulb are the ones served in little seedy bars and watering holes. Like Gokul (behind the Taj) in Colaba. We Indians need solidly filling snacks while we drink. And Gokul, like many others, does a spectacular egg pakora. Which is nothing more than hard-boiled egg sliced vertically into four wedges, seasoned, dipped in the same besan batter and fried.
Or the cheese pakora. Which is a wedge of hard processed cheese dipped and done. Or chicken liver pakora. Chicken liver sautéed in masala and batter-fried. Prawn pakora, masala chicken pakora, even sizzling fish and Manchurian pakoras.
And after you’re done with these really great, artery-thickening, infarction-inducing, deep-fried treats, head to Noorani at Haji Ali and, yes, order a Deep-Fried Ice-Cream.