The Curious Case of Medu Vada | It’s far better than Benjamin Button’s!

Medu/Uzhunnu Vada and Bottle Gourd Sambaar

With a rather conflicted or ambiguous origin, an all accepting “South Indian” vada is the best way to speak of it, I believe. Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR), the Bengaluru based enterprise is known to have started serving Medu Vada at Lalbagh. Though, a large number of Udupi restaurants in coastal Karnataka are also known to have ‘created’ Medu Vada. I’m sure there are several other origin stories of this Vada on and off record, I’m aware of only these, as yet.

Patenting is a trend now and more so because of the boom in ‘food technology’. Recipes and flavours are difficult to patent because of the complexities that revolve around them. And when one takes a vada into consideration, this ambiguity of origin hasn’t exactly done any harm. The geographical fluidity that especially, fermented food items have had is very interesting to follow throughout history and now.

For a Medu Vada to reach college canteens in Bombay and relished by most – can be partly regarded to the urban agglomeration that Bombay is. As for the other part, let’s just say, it’s reached places through people who managed to incorporate it in food systems in parts of India other than the South. Any attempt at tracing food history isn’t going to be 100%. There will always be a space we won’t explore, a contribution we won’t take into account, unintentionally. What’s important, I feel, is to make efforts to know what we eat, why we choose to eat them and pass it down with regard to the side of its history known to us, at least.

In other news, I love Medu Vada that my mum makes. The ones in the photo don’t exactly follow the unsaid rule of symmetry but guarantees 10/10 flavour and home feels.

How do we prepare it at home?

The Batter: Soak Urad Dal (Split Black Gram) in water for at least 2-2.5 hours. After removing the excess water, in a dry mixer jar, put the soaked dal, chopped curry leaves, ginger and salt to taste. The key is to make sure the consistency is thick enough for the vada to remain in shape in oil. Grind all of it into a good paste, if it gets too thick, add very little water to balance it out. Cute Uzhunnu Vadas can be prepared immediately or even a day later. The batter needs to be stored in the refrigerator.

Making Uzhunnu Vada: In a cooking pot, add oil (we’re deep frying so oil needs to be used accordingly). Bring the vada batter to room temperature, if stored. Keep a bowl of water handy and a cloth too! I’ll explain why as we go. My mom tells me the trick to making good donut looking vadas is to control them with water. Dip your working hand (for me it’s my right hand) in water and take a ladle worth batter into your hand that’s shaped like a well to contain it. Keep the thumb free of this batter. Dip the thumb in water and make a whole right in the middle of the batter. Start putting it into the hot oil, water makes it easier to slide the batter into the oil. Repeat the process but always wipe your hands and start fresh. If the batter comes in contact with too much water, it will never hold itself together in oil and take whacky shapes that’d break your heart.

Deep frying our goldies!

When there’s some bandwidth to upload videos here, I shall do so, they’re on my Instagram by the way! I go by the username @bexreview (just in case you’d like to see). As these become golden-orange in colour, that’s your cue to remove it from oil. And voila!

There are SO MANY ways to prepare these in terms of the taste and the techniques used. These are just the ones that we happen to use at home and work for us. Have it with sambaar or coconut chutney, completely up to your taste buds. I’d initially thought of including things about sambaar too but well that’s another ball game for another blog and I may have something else in mind too. Till then, sit back and enjoy VADA!!!!!

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