- Rohan Kamicheril
Authenticity is a slippery word when it comes to food.
Though fafda-chutney is a very real and much-loved street snack in Gujarat, I can’t say that any of my familiarity with it comes from the little time I’ve spent in that state.
As Indians travel all over their country they inevitably take their food with them. Sometimes their food stays preserved in home kitchens, enjoyed solely by family and friends. Other times these wayfaring preparations spill out into the street in the through the offerings of small restaurants, street carts, wedding fare, and it’s through the gradual working of these public appearances that foods from faraway cities and states can come to form the culinary fabric of unlikely places.
Though there is a sizeable Gujarati community in Bangalore, their presence isn’t quite as palpable in the food of the city as it is in cities like Mumbai where it’s almost impossible to walk a block without seeing an impressively stocked farsanwallah surrounded by pillars of fried gram flour sev, chakklis, thepla, and more. Still, it was in Bangalore, all unlikelihood aside, that I tasted one of the most delicious plates of fafda-chutney that I’d ever eaten.
It was on a trip to Chikpet, an old commercial part of Bangalore, that my brother-in-law took me to Annapoorna Sweets, a tiny little stall on a busy side street sandwiched between fabric shops and jewellery stores.
The fafda-chutney (which they call papdi-kadhi), is served in a tiny plastic plate. The kadhi, a thin gram-flour based soup is brilliantly yellow and shot through with black mustard seeds. The papdi (or fafda), deep-fried ribbon-shaped crullers of gram flour, are arranged haphazardly over the bowl of kadhi. A liberal drizzle of tamarind sauce and cilantro sauce get poured over.
The kadhi, which is piping hot, softens the fafda so that the ribbons are in some parts crunchy, earthy, nutty, and in others, slick, tender, and beautifully soft. The tamarind and the cilantro add a vibrant grace note to the dish.
In the spirit of elaboration I’ve added my own flourishes to my version of this dish. They’re just little things, a flourish of finely diced onions, a mint chutney in place of the cilantro. Whether it’s authentic is anyone’s guess, but it pleases me, and I think you’ll find it delicious, too.
A note on the fafda dough: Fafda are usually made with a fairly pliable dough and the individual fafdas are formed by making little cylinders that you then press into flat noodles using the flat of your hand. It’s a marvelous skill once you’ve cultivated it, but one that’s a little tricky to master. Until you get the hang of it, I recommend using a slightly stiffer dough and rolling it out using a pasta machine, as I’ve described below.
A note on preparing components ahead of time: Though all the other components in this dish will keep for a couple of days, I highly recommend making the mint chutney the same day as you plan on using it. Though it will keep its dark, lovely green, it will begin to lose a lot of its bright flavor by the second day.
2 cups besan flour (or chickpea flour)
1 tsp ajwain (carom seed)
water (see recipe for directions on quantities)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda
2 tsp ghee
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Pinch of asafetida
1 small hot green chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
¼ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp red chilli powder
¼ cup besan
1 ½ cup water
Juice of 1 small lime
½ cup strained tamarind pulp, either from a jar or extracted from dried tamarind soaked in hot water
3 tbsp cleaned mint leaves
¼ tsp amchur
4 pitted dried dates, coarsely chopped
Salt to taste
1 small bunch mint, leaves removed from stems
1 hot green chilli (or to taste)
Large pinch coarse salt
¼ cup cold-pressed canola oil
First, make the two chutneys.
Combine all the ingredients for the tamarind chutney in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Let the mixture perk for 5 minutes or so until it has darkened just a shade or two to a glossy, rich brown. Puree using an immersion blender till smooth and set aside to cool. Adjust salt as needed.
To make the mint chutney, pound the mint and the green chilli in a heavy mortar and pestle with a large pinch of salt. When the mint and green chilli have broken down and made a dark paste, start slowly trickling in the oil, swirling with the pestle as you do to blend the oil with the mint. When you have a fairly smooth, pourable liquid, adjust salt as needed and set aside until ready to use.
To make the fafda, combine the besan with the salt, baking soda, and ajwain seeds in a medium bowl. Slowly add water to the mixture, never adding more than a quarter cup at a time initially, until the flour begins to form a dough, at which point you should add the water even more judiciously: a tablespoon at a time and only if it seems like the dough will not pick up the scraps of flour at the bottom of the bowl. You should end up with a fairly stiff but workable dough.
Knead the dough for approximately 5–7 minutes or until it feels smooth to the touch and shows no rough, dry patches. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside for at least an hour.
To shape the fafda, set up a pasta rolling machine on your tabletop and dust your counter with a generous amount of besan flour.
Dust a baking sheet with more besan flour and keep it handy to receive the rolled- out fafda.
Cut the dough into quarters and only work on one quarter at a time, leaving the others covered with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.
Roll each quarter out into a long oval about ¼-inch thick, to allow it to fit more easily between the pasta rollers. Besan flour doesn’t have the glutinous integrity of wheat flour so you’ll want to be a little gentler with it than with pasta dough.
Starting at the widest setting on your pasta machine, roll the fafda dough into successively thinner sheets, as you would for pasta. Dust the dough with a little besan between rollings if it seems like it’s getting sticky. Stop at the third-narrowest setting. If you roll the dough out too thin it will begin to fall apart.
Using a sharp paring knife or a pizza cutter (which will be much faster), cut the rolled-out dough crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips. Transfer the cut strips to the waiting baking sheet, making sure not to stack them on top of each other or they will stick to each other and make things very difficult for you when it’s time to fry them. Separate layers of the cut fafda with sheets of parchment.
When all your fafdas are rolled out, set them by your stovetop as you heat up 2 inches of canola oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan. Keep another baking sheet handy, lined with paper towels, to deposit the fried fafda into.
When the oil reaches 320°F, start adding the fafda to it, making sure to only add as many at a time as fit comfortably side by side in the oil. The fafda should sizzle in the oil as you add them.
Using a slotted spoon, press down gently on the frying fafda to keep them submerged in the bubbling oil. When they have turned a light golden brown on one side, use your slotted spoon to turn them over to fry briefly on the other side.
Continue till all your fafda are done. You can store your fafda for a couple of days in an airtight container—just make sure that they cool completely before putting them away.
To make the kadhi, first combine the besan with the turmeric, chilli powder, and a pinch of salt. Slowly add water to the mixture, stirring rapidly as you do, to make a thick slurry before adding all of the water to the mixture. This small step makes it easier to avoid a batter filled with lumps.
Heat the ghee in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it begins to shimmer, add the mustard seeds.
When the mustard seeds begin to pop and have turned grey, add the green chilli and the asafetida and stir to keep from burning.
Next, add the besan slurry and stir well to combine the liquid with the seasoning in the pan.
Cook until the mixture comes to a simmer. Continue to cook for 7–10 more minutes, stirring often to prevent lumps from forming. If at any point the mixture seems too thick or seems to be catching, add upto a quarter cup of water at a time. The finished sauce should be the thickness of double cream.
Taste the kadhi as it cooks to check for seasoning. As it cooks it should also lose the dusty taste of raw besan flour.
Remove from the heat when done and adjust seasoning as needed with salt. Add the lime juice and stir to incorporate.
To serve, ladle the hot kadhi into a shallow bowl. Top with a generous handful of fafda and drizzle with the mint and tamarind chutneys. Garnish with a large pinch of diced onions and serve right away.