A meal in an Udipi restaurant is typically a no-nonsense affair. The staff is all business, the place is teeming with people and noisy with the clattering of stainless steel utensils and whirring fans. You already know what will be on the menu. Most people have a specific Udipi-dining profile. There are the uttapam people and the crispy dosa people. There are those who want to eat the full thali (prix fixe platter). Of course, you always have that one person who insists on perusing every line of the 12-page menu before finally declaring that they will eat masala dosa, the same thing they have eaten on their previous 50 Udipi restaurant visits. Then there is also that person who will order something like matar paneer and naan, the few North Indian dishes placed on the menu for people exactly like these. Within 20 minutes, you will have placed your order, wolfed it down and have the bill plunked on your table, in a small plate of fennel seed. Now that's fast food.
Everyone has their own ideas about the best indicators of the quality of an Udipi restaurant. V insists that you can tell how good an Udipi restaurant is by tasting their coconut chutney. Fresh coconut has a delicate taste, but the freshness starts deteriorating rapidly once you shred the coconut. A thick fragrant chutney oozing with fresh coconut milk is a definite sign of the restaurant's superiority. For my part, I say the best Udipi restaurant is the one that has the best medu vada, with the desirable traits being the crispy crackling outer shell and a soft pillowy inside, a bronze look but no trace of the recent oil bath- no oily smell or greasy taste.
On my visit to India, a dear cousin who had been appraised of my
Thanks to all who played along, and kudos to the dozens who correctly guessed that it is indeed a medu vada maker. Kudos also to the imaginative souls who guessed that it could be a beater or churner or sifter and other things- I enjoyed reading your guesses! The idea is to make the medu vada batter, fill it into this thingy, then press down so that circles of dough can be dropped into hot oil. In theory, anyway. I wish I had action shots of the medu vada contraption at work, but unfortunately, having only two pairs of hands and no other humans at home at the time, I could not. Dogs are pretty much useless at taking pictures of medu vada making, I find.
Medu vada really only needs two ingredients, ural dal and salt. I use gota urad dal, which is black lentils that are skinned, but the two halves of the lentil are still together. So it is skinned but not split. I soaked 1 cup of urad dal for 3 hours or so.
In addition, people season medu vadas with any or all of the following- ginger, green chillies, curry leaves, cilantro, cumin seeds, fresh coconut shards. I chose to only use crushed black peppercorns for some zing.
All you have to do is to drain the soaked urad dal and churn it into a thick and creamy batter, along with the salt and seasoning. I use my KitchenAid food processor for this. This requires very little excess water, if any. The batter has to be buttery soft and fluffy. My mother tells me that if prepared batter sits around, it absorbs oil when fried, so I make the batter as the oil is heating up.
Normally, I simply drop tablespoons of the batter in hot oil to make medu vadas. One can form the traditional doughnut shapes too, with some skill and perhaps a plastic sheet to form the shape on. The idea of the doughnut shape, of course, is to increase the proportion of crispy surface relative to the inside of the vada.
As the proud new owner of a medu vada maker, I swear I gave it my best shot. And it was really fun at the beginning. The vadas came out looking like this:
But after a while the bottom of the thingy is too sticky with batter, and vadas refuse to form well. Am I doing this wrong? Is there a secret to making this thing work?
The bottom line is that the jury is still out as far as the medu vada thingamajig is concerned but who cares really, the medu vadas tasted fantastic.
I'm sending this post to the RCI (Regional Cuisines of India): Udipi and Mangalore event. I love the cuisine of this region and I am sure the round-up of this event will prompt a bookmarking frenzy here!
Come back in a day or two if you would like to see a tasty dish made with tofu and tamarind. Go ahead, make your guesses, this one's easy!