Last week there was a time when I was feeling a bit low and not willing to go out. My friend Ramesh invited me to join him for some vada sambar in a very nice restaurant in our neighbourhood but I just could not get up enough enthusiasm for the escapade and he went alone. The invitation however reminded me that I had not cooked either a medu vada or a masala vada at home for over seven years. There is a vendor who comes everyday with idlies and vadas from who I had been buying these delicacies on and off, particularly when my father was alive. I had stopped that too in an effort to cut down on fried food!

I decided to cook the masala vada the next day and soaked the dal early in the morning on Sunday. Between Manjiree who was at home it being a Sunday, and me, we cooked up a storm and we came up with this.
The vadais are stored in a keep warm casserole.

This brought to mind many other dishes that I used to cook. I have more or less stopped now for quite some time because I find other things to do and find less time to cook. Or at least that is the excuse I give myself.

My interest in cooking started when I was posted in Mumbai in the mid eighties when a lot of my friends from Hyderabad who were working in the Middle East used to pass through our home as transit point while on their way out to or in from the Middle East. These were all men who used to cook for themselves and while staying at home would insist on cooking for us. When I saw that these hard core macho men who otherwise would not go any where near their kitchens at home in Hyderabad had become such good cooks, I tried my hand under their guidance and got hooked. From that time onwards, I used to meet chefs in restaurants and ask them for recipes for dishes that I had liked cooked by them and I still have a lot of those typed and filed neatly.

I used to take pride in cooking and would tease ladies that the world’s best chefs are men and even in India, no woman can cook as well as our traditional samayalkaran (Tamil for male cook) or maharaj (Hindi for male cook) of for that matter all those great cooks in our dhabas throughout the country. I never had to compete with any one to establish my credentials but the satisfaction of seeing people appreciate and eat what I had cooked was enough motivation to keep me going.

With this new beginning perhaps I will go back again to cooking! If I do, I shall post photographs and recipes.

Chintan – Idli/Vadai wallah.

This is Chintan. Another one of Pune’s Pheirwallah entrepreneurs. He is a particularly important contact for me as he supplies home made stape food for many people from the South of India living alone in hostels, and fellows like me, too lazy to prepare the two vital items that my father simply adores.

In the picture, he is doling out idlies. These are steamed rice/lentil cakes.

He also supplies Medhuvadais.

He plies his trade on bicycle and announces his arrival with a bicycle air horn

He supplies accompanying coconut chutney and sambhar free of charge!

The two stainless steel vessels that hang from the handlebars contain sambhar and chutney. Behind him on a side saddle, he has his stock of vadais.

Chintan comes from deep down Tamil Nadu. His clientele however is eclectic as, though idlies and vadais are South Indian dishes, they have now become ubiquitous throughout India. Chintan grinds the dough for his dishes every evening in an electric wet grinder.

The grinding is actually done with a stone grinder and it is quite an engineering feat to have developed a modern equivalent to the old stone grinders that I have seen my mother use to grind dough.

Purists would still insist on using the old stone grinders!

Chintan’s wife steams/fries the idlies and vadais early in the morning while Chintan prepares the chutney and the sambhar. By 8.00 am Chintan is off on his bicycle and normally sells his entire stock off by around noon. He then returns home, which is about five kilo meters from our township to rest and organise for the next day.

Chintan is the third from his family who have been supplying me with idlies and vadais. His cousin and his uncle before him handed over this beat to him and moved on to other townships in an ever expanding city. There are now six of them vending the same stuff in different localities.

I would be hard pressed to satisfy my father’s craving for these dishes without Chintan playing his role in my life.