RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: For the better part of the past month, one of the questions that has been bugging me is a food-related one: who made the first Maddur Vade, and why did he make it in one of the more unremarkable places on the Bangalore-Mysore road?
(It’s so artless in its looks, it has to be a he, right?)
Sexist stereotypes aside, there are two reasons—three, if you include the inclusion of Our Man from Maddur to head the external affairs ministry—why I have been thinking about the Maddur Vade—or Maddur Vada or Vadai to irritate the semantic chauvinists.
Firstly, as my husband (age 41) keeps teasingly insisting these days, food is the new sex: there is some kind of voyeuristic pleasure to be had in reading about it; in thinking about it; in publicly imagining its myriad private possibilities.
And secondly, how can any self-respecting foodie in Bangalore not think of the Maddur Vade?
I mean, Mysore has its pak; Mangalore has its bajji and gadbad; Dharwad the peda; Davangere its benne dose. Even tiddly Bidadi has its “thatte idli“. If the identity of these small towns can be defined by food, just what accident of history deprived “big” Bangalore of its culinary claim to fame?
And what accident of history gave Maddur its pride of place on the gastronomic map?
The answer could be geography.
The fact that Maddur lies almost exactly mid-way (70 km) between Bangalore and Mysore could well explain its birth and growth as the must-have mid-way snack.
Back in pre-liberalised India, when the trains were metre gauge and private cars were few and far between, “Non-Stop” buses was the way to go. The buses halted for a few minutes underneath amid the coconut orchards for the men to amuse themselves.
Was that when the Maddur Vada made its brave incursion?
These days, for some 40-50 km on the 140-km stretch, from somewhere after Ramanagara to somewhere before Mandya, Maddur Vade stalks you like those picture postcard sellers do at the Taj or Gateway of India.
In a way, though, the Vade could be Maddur’s picture postcard except that you view it through your mouth and quickly eat up the evidence before the next town nears. But since the flavour of burnt onion is the defining characteristic of the Maddur Vade, the memory lingers long after.
So, you wonder who made it first and why?
If you are on an express or shuttle trains, the vendors haul up the buckets stuffed full with the Vade at the various stations and “crossing” points. These Vades are of varying quality, slightly thicker and a slightly more expensive than the Vades that the young boys produce at your bus window.
But it is only when you are in your own car or on a bike, that the full magic of Maddur Vade can be properly exploited and appreciated.
Reason: on public transport, the Maddur Vade is a heartless, no-fuss, commercial transaction.
On the train, for instance, the vendor serves it to you on 1/8th of a newspaper sheet and rushes off because there are 14 other compartments to serve.
If you are on the evening Chamundi Express heading to Mysore, the vendor might even affectionately persuade you to pick up a packet of three or five in a plastic cover for the family but that’s just “stock clearance” before he closes shop for the day and gets off in Srirangapatna.
If you are on the dreadful Shatabdi Express, god help you.
On the bus, the Maddur Vade is a victim of logistical inconsistency. Different kinds of bus services stop at different kinds of places, and some like the Volvos don’t even do that. Result: you don’t know where, if at all, your next Maddur Vade is coming from.
It is only when you take an express bus that you can be sure that at least in the place of its birth, the Vade will materialise at your window.
On both the train and the bus, the Maddur Vade is a functional experience. The Vade and nothing more. It’s bone-dry and convenient although the train Vade has been calculated by scientists of the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) to be on average 2.3 times thicker than the bus Vade. (The Defence Food Research Laboratory has put the figure at 2.35 times.)
Downside: the vintage of the Vade is hidden by the speed of the transaction.
However, it is when you stop by leisurely at the highway restaurants—Maddur Tiffany’s on either side of the highway, the “MTR” Shivalli restaurant, Kamat Lokruchi, etc—especially when the sun is dipping, that you get to savour the experience of a warm-to-hot Vade with chutney, followed by strong coffee.
Only those who have newly bought a white elephant called the tread mill can stop at just one.
(Café Coffee Day, I am certain, is never likely to soil the muffin-coated mouths of its clientele despite its founder’s conjugal links with Maddur.)
The strange thing about the Maddur Vade despite its reasonable reputation is that there are few claimants to its discovery.
The Moti Mahal in Delhi will lay claim to dishing up the first butter chicken; Bombay’s Nelson Wang to the gobi Manchurian. But who lowered the first Maddur Vade into the boiling bandlee? We will never know.
There is a museum in Shivapura but there are no statues hailing the maker, the master-chef. Yet.
My own first memory of Maddur Vade is when I was seven or eight. Our family was proceeding to Bangalore in our old Morris Tiger early one morning. Shortly after Maddur, my father swung the car into a narrow lane which deposited us in front of the railway station. Magically, a vendor appeared and served us the goodies on l’il banana leaves.
Even now, the Maddur Vade at the railway station commands a small premium over other Maddur Vades, and old faithfuls still swear by it, resisting all overtures from the vendors on the trains, till the stop nears. But this could just be good old nostalgia.
For me, the Maddur Vade has held its charm for one key reason: it was the rebel among vades in our joint family kitchen. My mother, Sharada, now 75, never ever made or attempted to make it at home. Uddina vade she did, masala vade she did, but Maddur Vade was a strict no-no.
There was something “street food” about it.
So, falling for its charms not only became a matter of the stomach but an expression of the heart. Nothing about it suggests good health. Not the oil, not the semolina, not the deep fried onions.
But the fact that they didn’t make it at home was reason enough to hog regardless of the time of day. A deep fried vade first thing in the morning on the way to work may not be what the doctor prescribes, but what’s medicine got to do with the palate when geography beckons?
Speaking of which, will Prema Krishna put Maddur Vade on the MEA menu when the “dialogue process” begins with Pakistan? And could it usher in peace between our two countries in our troubled subcontinent?
If the shortest route to a man’s heart is through his stomach, can even Asif Ali Zardari resist the Maddur Vade‘s naked attraction that has melted millions from different parts of the country?
It’s pure fantasy, of course, but you can almost hear S.M. Krishna sitting at the high table, nodding in agreement with himself as he delicately pushes a plate of Maddur Vade towards his guests from across the border: “Here, try some of these with some gatti chutney….”
Photographs: Karnataka Photo News
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