War of the fries


Looking for a healthy snack? Why not grab a plate of pakodas? Read on to know why...

It has been raining incessantly in Dehradun and every evening we crave for some spicy snack with steaming cups of chai. The snack sometimes becomes a little elaborate and takes care of our dinner as well, a deeply satisfying soulful dinner to be precise. Sometimes it is a steamed mungodi dunked in a spicy green chutney and sometimes a deep-fried alu katli ke pakode made fresh while the chai brews. When we decide to have some vada or besan ki katli, it becomes an early dinner rounded up with an additional cup of chamomile or lemongrass tea. These freshly-made pakodas are somewhat like a ritual whenever friends are over for evening tea or any impromptu chitchat; thankfully, one can make some sort of pakodas with whatever is available in the kitchen.

Yes, snacking in India is serious business and we thrive on the sheer variety in our repertoire, the reason why street food culture is so prevalent.

Each corner of the country so diverse, in terms of climate, geography and produce, has its own way with snacks, and there are all sorts of nibbles to choose from.

War of the fries

From bite-sized pakodas fit for our chai-coffee snacks to the more substantial bondas and bajjis that become a mini meal, Indian snacks cover the whole spectrum of meals you may need at any time of the day, replete with a sprinkle of chaat masala or bits of green chillies and an array of chutneys that make such snacks a wholesome food each time.

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In all probability, you will find such snacks being made at some street food shack in your neighbourhood as well, telling the story of how Indians are serial offenders of snack attacks, sometimes at the cost of skipping meals. If someone tells you that these snacks are the reason Indians have their arteries clogged, just ask them if they have switched from pakodas to sandwiches. The fact is, we have always had a fascinating array of pakodas of all sorts, ranging from deep-fried, shallow-fried, steamed, poached and more, and our arteries started getting clogged once we stopped having these healthy snacks and switched to industrially-made sandwiches, cakes and cookies. But the industrial red velvet cakes, packaged breads, chemically-concocted mayonnaise and ketchup are a story for another day.

Keeping alive traditions

Thankfully, a large number of people have continued enjoying pakodas of all forms, keeping their health on point. In fact some of the pakoda and vada recipes are ancient. Some of these deep-fried snacks have been a part of our religious rituals, like how a kora urad ka bada is always made at weddings in UP and the same is made for shraddh rituals remembering the deceased members of the family, the paush bada is made during the Paush month of the year to be distributed as prasad in temples in Rajasthan, anarse are made in the month of Shravan in UP and Bihar and during Diwali in Maharashtra. There are many more that are either a part of religious rituals or much endearing family rituals that one finds comfort in.

War of the fries

In fact, all the Indian pakodas, bhajias and vadas are perfect example of foods that satisfy the palate in multiple ways. The crunch, the crispness, the spice quotient and the pairing with a fresh chutney, all these make them a wholesome experience of eating that satiates the senses.

Many street food vendors have mastered the art of making perfect pakodas and they do brisk business in their localities. I have witnessed many pakoda shops across the country doing roaring business. Whether it was a mirchi vada seller in a Pokhran market in Rajasthan, a vazhakai bajji maker in Madurai, a chai pakoda wala at the Aut bus terminal in Himachal or the dal pakodi walas of many old Kolkata markets, all of them have mastered the art and science of making the most delicious snack that ‘flies off the shelf’. The only problem with street-side pakoda vendors is that they have all converted to refined oils and they rarely change the oil, so the pakodas are not the healthiest you can find. But then, the average Indian family believes in cooking all meals and snacks at home and pakodas are the most uncomplicated snacks to make.

Still relevant

In my opinion, there is a reason why the ancient snacks are still relevant. The trick is to use good-quality cold-pressed oils. Since pakodas are mostly made of lentils, they are gluten-free and there are minimal chances of any possible allergies. Some pakodas are even made of seeds and nuts, some with wild foraged greens and some with the most inconspicuous raw materials, and they suit all sorts of dietary preferences. Some fried pakodas can be calorie-dense, but they are so satisfying as a meal or snack that the overall calorie intake of the day seldom goes excess, unless one is an obsessive eater. Compare them to the cookies and brownies one gobbles up unmindfully with the chai or coffee and you will realise how pakodas are practical diet regulators when compared to any other low-calorie or low-fat snack that may be doing the rounds of dieters clubs.

War of the fries

Pakodas – The Snack For All Seasons (Westland) is authored by nutrition coach and culinary consultant, Sangeeta Khanna. It lists almost 200 pakoda and 40 chutney recipes from all over the country

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 6:16:52 AM |

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