Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vada Sambar not Medu

Growing up in Mumbai and being exposed to a multitude of food influence one forgets the traditional stuff and the origins of some. My family woke up to an English or Irani breakfast. The lunch was Koli or Gujarati influenced. The evening tea was a true colors of Mumbai anything ranging from bhel to sandwiches to South Indian. Weekend breakfast most times was South Indian to be exact idli or uttampams, the art of medu vada making or for that matter crispy dosa was not yet mastered by my mother. So for our occasional indulgences it would be medu vada with chutney wrapped in a banana leaf or what we call harachi pane (leaves used to wrap garlands, don't know what they are called) from the nearby Lalit in Fort that most times Uncle M would get for us.

I think Lalit was the first truly South Indian restaurant that I visited. I love the Medu Vada sambar there. I still remember it because that was my initiation to the taste of South Indian food. Hey but isn't this post supposed to be about the ubiquitous Batata Vada that is brand Mumbai and Maharashtra?

Well I had to give you the background as we explore the origins of a different type of Vada Sambar not the Medu vada kind. Humm so for me Vada sambar meant nothing but Medu Vada Sambar. As I grew a little older and my parents started allowing me to eat at hotels when we travelled on our yearly pilgrimages I discovered that Vada sambar in the remote villages of Maharashtra and border regions of Karnataka was not Medu Vada Sambar at all.

It happened on one such visits to the pilgrim centers I don't quite remember which one it could be Pandharpur, GaNagapur or may be Akkalkot. I ordered for Vada Sambar and I started crying when I saw Batata Vadas sitting in a green peas curry (Hirvya VataNyachi usal). My parents consoled me that here in the villages people do not know how to make medu vada so they make Batata Vada and serve with the really spicy usal or toor dal sambar. Later I got used to it. Now though it is not my favorite combo for nostalgia sake I made it today.

It makes me wonder how food evolves. Is that how the Batata Vada Sambar was created? Or was it an original dish. If you see the history of food Sambar is a South Indian curry made with dal and coconut masala variations all over the four states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu but never in Maharashtra.

The Batata Vada Sambar must have been created to give it a single complete meal tag for a farmer. But did farmers eat at the local eateries? or was it created for the travellers?

Was it a South Indian immigrant in Maharashtra who created it or was it the Marathi entrepreneur. It still is good business to have Batata Vada Sambar on the menu for these tin roofed eateries in the villages of Maharashtra the Vadas get washed down with special kadak (over boiled strong tea).

The Batata Vada Sambar is eaten from a bowl placed in a plate the way soup is served and eaten with two spoons to divide the vada into bites. Here in India forks are not used much except in some slightly upmarket places but two spoons do a good job in smaller eateries.

This post is flying across to Dear Anita, Delhi for the celebration of A Mad Tea Party's second blogversary.

Wishing her happy blogging for the future!

Batata Vada served with Toor Dal Sambar


  1. I was right about the batata vada surprising all of sambar?! I would have never imagined! What will Manisha have to say about this 'tradition'?!

  2. Yeah this is a surprise specially brought out for you and this event Anita! I'm awaiting to hear from the gyani Annite too :).

  3. Batata vada in sambar??? Interesting!!!

  4. wow interesting, had never heard of this before. For me too Vada Sambhar means medhu vada.

  5. Looks good i will try it this week end. Well last week i tried alu tikki, it tasted gud and tried some variations in it by keeping it in between pav with chat masala sprinkled on it with onions and tomato ketchup. My bro hogged like any thing

  6. You are really creative Karthik! You can beat Mac!

  7. The first time i had this combo in a udipi restaurant in Pune, i was so skeptical....but later realized that this tastes so amazing! Good entry! :)


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