Vada way to go February 18, 2007Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.
Shanti Oberoi makes better dahi vadas than Sushil Jolly makes better dahi vadas than Vaishali makes better dahi vadas than LMB at Jaipur
VAISHALI MAKES BETTER DAHI VADAS than the Jaipur’s Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar.
But her mother-in-law, Sushil Jolly, makes even better dahi vadas than her and Vaishali is the first one to admit it. In fact, when she weighs mother against mother-in-law, there is no confusion in her mind about who is the dahi vada queen.
However, Vaishali’s mother-in-law’s mother, Shanti Oberoi, makes the best dahi vadas of them all.
It is possible that she makes the best dahi vadas in the whole world. I’ve never eaten them, but I have always known instinctively that there is a dominant gene in most Punjabi women that enables them to construct superlative dahi vadas. Punjabi men, I suspect, have a gene that makes them physiologically incapable of refusing to eat dahi vadas once they have been constructed. This explains the success of a street such as Delhi’s Ajmal Khan Road.
I myself ate the best dahi vadas in the world in 1970-something, when I was sent to Jaipur, and stayed at a hotel called Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar. Despite the oleaginous name, the establishment is a landmark of the pink city. It stands like an old and tattered monarch, surrounded by monkeys and enormous Rajasthani doormen. A halvai sits outside the lobby making phirni and samosas in pure ghee that flavours the entire street. On the ground floor there is also a pure vegetarian restaurant where these dahi vadas — or bhallé — as they are called, are served. You get about 6 to 8 on a plate.
But they have bits of cashew inside, dear friends. And I know now that Vaishali might disapprove of that. Sushil Jolly might look pained, and Shanti Oberoi might faint with horror. Indeed Punjab might go into a deep depression.
Vaishali has learnt her craft from the custodians of tradition. I ate nothing else at her house where she’d made the rest of the dinner as well, and I marvelled deeply at what one must do to get such a wonderfully spongy creation at the end. Why are some women doomed to make worse dahi vadas than the rest? I thought I should ask Vaishali this question.
Vaishali said that she was the first doomed woman, because her mother, mother-in-law and her mother in turn were all perhaps better at it than she was. Next, without fuss or bother, she got into nitty gritty details.
The trick, according to V, is that you have to beat the vada batter. Not like a disciplinarian but more like a sports coach. The batter is made without fuss: you leave urad dal and mung dal (three parts of one to one part of the other) to soak overnight, and then bung them into a mixie to grind in the morning. The spicing (salt, coarsely ground peppercorns, hing, cummin seed or jeera) are added separately. At least that’s how Vaishali does it. She now uses a spoon to ‘beat’ the mixture till it is the desired consistency.
Her mother-in-law’s mother, swears Vaishali, doesn’t use a spoon to mix the blend. She moves her fingers in the batter, processing the vada batter till it is smooth and ready to fly. At this point, if you take a drop of the batter and throw it into some cold water, it should float. If it doesn’t, you may be sinking.
Now heat some oil and make the vadas. Take the trouble to roll them by hand separately first, so that you get reasonably round vadas, and for God’s sake, don’t roast them golden brown, you are not an Udipi restaurant are you. Now, next, soak the vadas in hot water for about 10 minutes. Then squeeze out the excess water, taking care not to break or distort the vada in the process.
Toss it into fresh curds into which you have already added salt, black salt (very important!! If you want to be real), jeera, black pepper power and red chilly powder.
For a while. Your untutored palate might feel something amiss, and it will be right. The chutney is absent. And here might be the solution. To get it right, you need to take a little aamchoor and sugar and mix them in the ratio of 3:1. Mix the aamchoor in a little water, add the sugar, boil it, with the judicious addition of salt, black salt, cummin, coriander powder and so on. Anything to take it closer to God.
Pour this stuff over that stuff, and you have dahi vada, Version Vaishali.
Vaishali’s dahi vadas meet ISO9002 requirements. Position numbers 9003 and 9004 have already been taken by her m-in-l and her mother. Vaishali, humble and accomplished, speaks with awe about Shanti Oberoi’s dahi vada. Indeed, as I was signing off, she muttered, almost regretfully, “By the way, I added bicarbonate of soda. Is that all right?”
Of course it’s all right, silly. We’re just waiting for dinner now.