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A chip of the old Nayak June 28, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food, Humor.
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In a clear case of judicio-culinary activism, C Y Gopinath is put on trial for declaring Rama Nayak’s wafers to be the best in the universe as we know it.

Yes, M’lud, I am reasonably certain that it was not an Indoor Locker.

Or Indoor Laukar, as they tell me its erroneously called in the teeming wholesale veggie markets of downtown Maharashtra. Or Indore Locker, for all I know. In fact, Your Grace, your best money won’t get you a decent Indore Locker till after Christmas is gone and you’ve rung the new year in. After that, it’s Indore Locker season all the way till May, with the occasional Talegaon showing up.

But if it’s December — and it will soon be — then the potato of choice for frying wafers is not the Indore Locker or the Talegaon but the Mahabaleshwar potato. And I stand guilty as accused of having declared, in a public place and in a loud voice, that the wafers made at Rama Nayak’s 50-years-plus Udipi Hotel, just outside Matunga East station, deploying the magnificent Mahabaleshwar, are the best in this quarter of the universe. Or at least the Asia-Pacific rim.

All I ask, before this august court sentences me to a lifetime of dry dum aloo with no spices, is a chance to defend myself.

The problem, Your Excellency, is that you’ve never held a Rama Nayak potato wafer between your grubby judiciary fingers, else you wouldn’t be trying me for nepotism. It’s really very thin, you know. Wafer-thin would be the exact phrase that’s eluding me. Hold it up against the sun, and God will shine a light through it, coming out all translucent and glorious on the other side. In color, it will be a uniform pale gold, though the occasional one will be streaked with a reddening that got past quality control.

Pop one in your mouth and close your eyes as you chew. It’ll crumble all crisp, like the credits of some modern movie, releasing only texture and a fleeting certainty that nothing is wrong with the world at the moment. The feeling disappears in an instant along with the wafer, but if you want it back just pop the next one in your mouth.

They come in packets of Rs.20 each, Your Rectitude. They are not vacuum sealed or foil packed. And they are completely touched by human hands every little inch of the way.

One the day that I took it upon myself to personally inspect the wafer-making process at Rama Nayak, the human hands in question belonged, respectively, to Ratnakar, potato peeler from Kundapur, South Canara; Uday, potato slicer from Bhatkal, on the border between South and North Canara; and Ramaiah, deep fryer from Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu.

It is nearly a religious experience, Your Wittiness, watching wafers being made. The Mahabaleshwar is a sturdy, soldierly potato with a parched-earth tracery on its red-brown skin. Early in the morning, Satish Rama Nayak, who runs the show, or his nephew-in-training Pravin Kumar, will already have chosen the best Mahabaleshwars in the market, going by shapeliness, girth, and absence of sprouting eyes and discolorations.

“Plus hardness,” says Satish. “A good Mahabaleshwar is full of water, which makes it hard. Soft potatoes go phut so we try to retain the water but get rid of the starch.”

Starch is enemy number one in Waferland. It makes the wafers stick to each other, it absorbs oil, it creates grease and glaze, and it causes, eventually, cardiac arrest in loyal customers. After being peeled, Rama Nayak’s Mahabaleshwars are dunked in cold water for two starch-sucking hours. Then, after Uday the potato-slicer has done his stuff, they do two more hours in a metal tub, where they float pale white and luminous like dream flakes. This water will presently grow milky with starch, while the wafer, losing weight, gains a certain formal bearing.

And it’s ready to boogie.

It will not have escaped your sharp notice, Your Perspicacity, that potatoes start cooking at 113°C but brown at 188°C. It might, however, never have crossed your fine sub judice mind to ask how on earth they measure temperature in a 50-year-old Udipi kitchen without thermometers? I’ll tell you, m’lud. The deep-fryer from Tirunelveli sprinkles a little water on the oil. If it merely crackles unhappily, then the oil isn’t hot enough. If, instead, it shatters the airwaves with a resounding whipcrack, then it is ready to host the Mahabaleshwars.

Into the wok they go. There is a celebratory effervescence as the wafers begin to surrender their remaining water. Then, for exactly three minutes, they jostle around happily like tourists in a 5-star jacuzzi, getting their hides lightly tanned.

They out they come. The surface oil drips away into a colander. Ceiling fans are switched off lest the wafer start losing confidence. There is a light summer shower of salt, sometimes red chilly powder as well. And Ratnakar the potato-peeler turns into Ratnakar, wafer-packer. Does about 60 packets a day. No bulk orders accepted, now or ever.

Your Pulchritude, I’m all admiration for your gush of judicio-culinary activism, pressing charges against a harmless wafer fetishist like myself just because I feel kindly towards Rama Nayak’s wafers, but do you really have a case? Here, try one of these. Want another? Go for it. What about this spiced one? Don’t close your eyes, Your Magnitude. Concentrate on the accused. You have a case to judge.

And you should really stop this injudicious slurping.

And don’t speak with your mouth full.

Your Honour.

Comments»

1. Roopa - June 28, 2007

Aah, potato wafers..haven’t said that in a while. Wafers is an unknown term in chips land! Rama Nayak would put lays to shame. Can’t wait to let them crumble as soon as popping it in, but only if I could figure out how I can get my hands on them!

Good to see you back!

2. Sandhya - June 28, 2007

I gave up all hope of reading a new blog and then today, when I made that surreptitious trip to your website, I was delighted to see a new one!
When I think of the dehydrated, synthetic wafers that come in a can, I can only say that Rama Nayak’s wafers, ‘touched by human hands every inch of the way’ are indeed a far cry!
Keep those articles coming, we are starved for them.
Thanks.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Sandhya —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

3. cnb - June 28, 2007

Ah Matunga is a treasure trove

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

4. Gulan Kripalani - June 29, 2007

aaah Gopi, but have you tried Hot Chips in Seven Bungalows?
Heaven.
I’ll make sure I serve it the next time you come over. You be the judge.
Gulan

5. Anita - June 29, 2007

Hi, Gopi! Thanks for the shout-out. You made us wait soooooo long for another one of your posts.

If you cannot find the old ones, you can write us something new from where you are! In fact, I was hoping for some local observations…

The first thing for good potato ‘wafer’ then is the potato itself! Like for all good things, stat with the best ingredients.

6. Vineeta Chitale - August 6, 2007

Hi Gopi,
Though I completely agree with you re Nayak’s chips, [ the ‘ masala’ ones with hot red chilly on it are good too!], I liked the Hot Chips too, at Mulund East.
Vineeta Chitale

7. alicia - August 11, 2007

Oh Gopi…how you know how to love food! Do you have any favorite recipes for jackfruit? And maybe other dishes to complement? I will be trying out an interesting biryaani…if it turns out you may have to come to Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, Mexico and try it!
Saludos………….Alicia

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Alicia —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours. Made me smile.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

8. Venkat - September 26, 2007

…very funny
…snacky sumptuous ….
…you the one….

Venkat

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Venkat —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

9. Anonymous - October 8, 2007

OMG!! As a Rama Nayak devotee from the time I learned to eat, I must attest to the sublime experience of popping the cayenne pepper dusted wafer into my mouth. And once you pop, you can’t stop. I still get the slightly hardier kela wafers sent to New Jersey where I dream of the thali available outside Matunga every single Sunday.

Thanks for bringing back memories.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

10. Ashamary - May 15, 2008

Hi there,

I meandered on to your blog thru another foodie blog somewhere in this vast etherland…and this particular post garners a comment from me coz the writing style reminds me of a post I once did on ‘Koi Mil Gaya’ on mouthshut.com (my ID: crazeebiddee).

You have an awesome command over language … I loved reading every one of your posts since this morning!! 🙂 And intend to finish reading all posts by the end of day, today.

Great reading!!

Thanx a lot,
Asha

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Asha—

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.Brought back memories.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

11. Sindhu - July 14, 2011

Amazing writing! enjoyed it!!!

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2011 letter in 2015. Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

You must be wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi


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