I just love Bangalore during the monsoon. While the grey sky and damp, chilly weather could bring on a bout of SAD for many; I firmly believe that it is a time for sodden walks in Cubbon Park followed by chattering with friends over piping hot filter coffee and my favourite Maddur Vada, South India’s equivalent of the ubiquitous `chai and pakodas’ from the other side of the Vindhyas. But while its very mention makes dyed in the wool Bangaloreans light up like bulbs, newcomers to the scene might need a little help to track down this hidden jewel.
The Maddur vada is served at most darshinis and South Indian restaurants in Bangalore through the day. But its `native’ is Maddur, a little town in Mandya district, located about 80 km from the city along the Bangalore-Mysore highway. The Vada has always played a starring role in all my childhood memories of trips to Mysore, with Maddur being an eagerly awaited stopover no matter whether we were travelling by train or road. Maddur is where we pulled over alongside the busy highway, stretched our legs and waited for the Vada to arrive so we could tuck in. It was where we flattened our noses on train window bars and played `who –can- spot- Maddur –station- first.’
But do remember that the Maddur Vada is not a pakoda, tikki, bonda, or a doughnut shaped rice Vada. It occupies a unique place all of its own. According to experts, its distinctive taste is because the Vada batter (rice flour, corn flour and semolina) is mixed with onion juice instead of water. Sliced onions, curry leaves, grated coconut and asafoetida are also tossed into the mixture. A little patty is made out of the dough.It is then deep fried to a golden brown crisp and served with coconut chutney. The filter coffee of course, is the yang to its yin.
An exciting past
While the earthy Vada claims no distinguished lineage, it does possess an exciting past tucked away in the kitchen cupboard. The story is dramatic – local pakoda vendor owns a canteen on the Maddur station platform where snacks are sold to passengers. One day, the train arrives early and he realises (too late), that there isn’t much time to assemble the round pakodas and fry them. He quickly presses the dough into flat patties, fries them in an instant, and hey presto, the Maddur Vada is born! The innovation finds favour with hungry customers and soon becomes a regular offering. The secret recipe is handed down through generations and a news feature tells me that it settled with Doddamane Nagaraju, the proprietor of the popular Maddur Tiffany’s on the highway. He says that his grandfather was none other than Madhavachar, the afore mentioned local vendor who created it in the early 1900’s! Nothing like a little pinch of history to add to its local flavour.
If you have time, you’ll find there’s more to Maddur than meets the taste buds. Named after the local village deity, Maduramma, the town plays neighbour to the Kokkre Bellur Bird Sanctuary. The Sri Varadarajaswamy temple is attributed to the Hoysala period and the Ugra Narasimhaswamy temple is connected to the Mahabharata myth. The town was once called `Arjunapuri’ as Arjuna is said to have installed the idol here and worshipped it. Another story tells us that it was also called `Kadamba Nadi Kshethram’ because Kadamba Rishi performed sacred rituals here using water from the river nearby. It seems the name Maddur(u) only arrived much later.
Interestingly, like the Maddur Vada, many other hot favourites – the Davangere Benne Dosa, Mysore Pak, Dharwad Peda and the Mangluru Bhajji are all rooted in a strong geographical identity. But that is a discussion meant for another rainy evening with a second round of Maddur Vadai. Right now, I’m just thanking the Lord for a train that arrived early.