Monday, October 21, 2013

Bombayi bonda - indulging in the sinful eats

Ok, first things first. When I was growing up in Mysore, this Western Indian metro was called 'Bombayi' not 'Bombay' and not 'Mumbai'. This bonda apparently travelled the distance and reached Mysore to become a favorite in our house by which I mean many house holds in our tiny little Southern Indian city. What I didn't know then was the fact that this delicious bonda was called vada in its home town and especially served sandwiched between 2 slices of bread or pao and enhanced with drizzles of spicy chutneys. And people - rich & poor, famous, infamous and unknown line up infront of every non descript bhaiyya to get their daily share of this drool worthy snack in the city of Bombayi. Yep, it is the vada from the renowned vada pao (pav). While Mysoreans didn't take to the entire package of vada pav, they pulled the sandwiched vada, reduced its size, modified the shape a little, added their own spices to the stuffing and called it bonda. It became Bombayi bonda to keep the legacy of its origin.
I was reading a food history book (yep, I do that for fun :-)) titled Eating India by a Harvard educated Bengali Indian - Chitrita Banerji. It is a good read with loads of interesting information, check it out if you like. She has authored other food related (mainly food, culture & history, not recipes) books and in this one takes a trip across India trying to understand how the historical events influenced our cuisine from east to west and south to north and presents her argument about authenticity, which I thought was pretty accurate. Anyways, this book has a chapter about Bombay, city by the Sea.

Here is a piece of interesting history, all of you who have visited the city or live there, leave a comment and let me know if you knew about it. I had not studied it as part of any of my history lessons. Early entrants from Portugal wrested 7 small islands from sultans of Gujarat and collectively called them Bom Bahia which meant 'Good bay'. Later these islands were given to the British by Portugese as part of dowry (!) when Catherine of Braganza married King Charles II in 1662. They were leased to the British East India company by the king in 1668 who called it Bombay and turned it into an enormous port with unimagined trading potential. Recently in 1995, the name was changed to Mumbai. Call it by any name, for us Mysoreans, this will always be Bombayi bonda :-)
Bombay was the first out of state trip I took by myself, I went there immediately after my graduation travelling in a train from Bengaluru. It was both exhilarating and stressful. My cousins were at the train station to pick me up, take me home and also make sure I reached my place of interview the next day. Coming back in the evening I was all by myself as cousin & husband were both at work. I was given the bus number, the stop where I should get off and all the details I would need. Cell phones had not yet come into the pocket of every middle class person, definitely not a fresh out of college graduate like me. I boarded the bus, took the ticket correctly, got off a stop before my destination. I can never forget the panic I felt thinking about all the things that could happen to me in that big, bad city but miraculously traced back and walked the rest of the way home and was greeted by my cousin who had just come home too. Didn't tell anyone, so nobody was any wiser. Next day was spent merrily in lot of sight seeing and shopping with family and then I came back home to Mysore. I fell in love with this vibrant city during that short trip, the people, the buses, (no tram experience for me) never seemed to rest there and I felt like they were all in a perpetual motion.

While browsing my recipe index the other day, I noticed that I hardly had any of the deep fried snacks that I am so known for in my family. These spicy snacks are my love and I go all weak in the knees and just can't stop eating them. So, to prevent myself from the binging that I obviously am not capable of controlling, I resort to making them occasionally at home. "Out of sight, out of mind" does the trick (well mostly). But then, I don't really want to deprive myself and others at home of these goodies and so they are prepared on special occasions when there are lot of other equally delicious distractions on the table and many generous friends to share them with :-). Dasara/Navaratri is definitely such a celebratory occasion and since I had friends coming over to see our gombe habba, I put this on the menu. Everyone loved it and I wish I could say it was all over but since I (as always) made double the quantity from what was needed, we were left with many of them the next day. In an attempt to keep the temptation away, I put them all into a big zip lock bag, wrote the ingredients list on top and sent it along with a few other sweets and snacks to BH's office.
Now, work places here are known for their welcoming attitude towards food. Take anything edible and put it on a table where people can see it, it will be gone promptly. I had a candy lady in my previous office who always had a candy jar filled on her table every morning and it would empty by evening. And she was always the first one to know what was happening in and around the office, yep food encourages and develops grapevine very easily :-). Anyway, BH called around lunch time and said everything was gone without a trace when he walked by that table earlier, I am happy for the anonymous enjoyment of my bondas.

What do you need to make Bombayi bonda?
Makes 12 lemon sized bondas
For the stuffing or palya:
4 large potatoes
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp chana dal
2 Tblsp chopped cilantro
2-3 green chilies
3/4 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder

For the outer cover or dipping batter:
3/4 cup basin/gram flour
1 Tblsp rice flour
1/2 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1/8 Tsp asafetida
1/4 Tsp ajwain seeds
pinch of baking soda (this is just a pinch, the amount you can hold between your forefinger & thumb, I know it is not scientific but works just as well)

Other ingredients:
water to make batter
oil to deep fry (1.5-2 cups)

How do you make Bombayi bondas?
Making the stuffing or palya:
  • Wash the potatoes, boil them in water until soft.
  • Let cool, remove the skin and mash the potatoes so no big lumps remain.
  • Slit the green chilies vertically and chop them fine.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard, let it pop, add chana dal and roast until it turns pink. Add chopped green chilies and roast for 30 seconds.
  • Add the asafetida and turmeric powder and switch off.
  • Pour the seasoning over mashed potatoes, add chopped cilantro, salt and mix them well.
  • Do a taste test for salt and spices and adjust as needed.
  • Take small amounts and make balls out of them, keep them on a plate until ready to use.
Making the dipping batter:
  • Sieve gram flour and rice flour together to remove any lumps formed during storage.
  • Crush the ajwain between your palms to release the flavor, add it to the flours.
  • Add the remaining ingredients listed under batter and mix them all in.
  • Add water slowly to make a batter of dripping consistency. When you roll your stuffing ball in the batter, it should stick to the potato ball uniformly (no thick lumps).
Making Bombayi bondas:
  • Take a wide, heavy bottom pan and heat oil in it.
  • Drop a tiny bit of the batter to test if the oil is ready, if it comes to the surface immediately, then you are ready to deep fry the bondas.
  • Dip the potato ball in the batter (see notes), coat the batter all around it, drop it in hot oil.  
  • Based on the size of your pan and the amount of oil (all bondas should be immersed in oil when they get dropped and there should be enough space for them to move around), you can fry multiple bondas in one batch.
  • Once you drop them in hot oil, it will take a few seconds for them to come up to the surface, do not disturb them during this time.
  • Once they all show up on top, gently separate any conjoined twins or triplets with the help of a spoon so that they get roasted on all sides.
  • Give them a couple of minutes to become golden brown on the bottom before turning them over.
  • Move them around gently so the bondas turn golden brown on all sides. Deep fry should be done on medium heat and takes about 6-8 minutes for one batch.
  • Once the sizzling of the oil stops, take the bondas out with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with paper napkin.
  • Enjoy hot bondas with coconut chutney or ketchup, don't call me if you cannot stop eating them :-)
  • I skipped onions since some of the invitees wouldn't eat onion during Navaratri. You can fry onions along with the seasoning and add it for a flavor boost.
  • You can add fresh/frozen green peas to the potato stuffing, give a nice green burst and some protein.
  • Nammamma didn't add any masala powders (garam masala & others) as it is typical in Mysore. You can add garam masala, amchoor (dry mango powder) to enhance flavors.
  • Add chopped curry leaves along with rest of the seasoning for the stuffing.
  •  If you are making large quantities, do not mix water to the flours at one time as the baking soda starts working when you mix water and the longer it sits, the bondas become softer.
  • I have seen a friend double fry - take out a batch of bondas and put them back into hot oil for a second time after about 15-20 minutes of the first fry. While this makes them crispier, think about the oil consumed by it. I do not do it but it is a technique if you want to use. These bondas will anyway become softer when they cool as there is stuffing inside.
  • When you dip the potato ball in the batter, make sure it is coated with the batter all around. Lift it up, scraping your fingers on the edge of the vessel, dip it into the hot oil turning over so the bottom comes up. This trick will ensure that your fingers will take away as little as possible of the batter and also reduce the tails that form as you drop them in oil.
That is how you sit and enjoy the bondas :-)

  • I chop the green chilies really small and season them before mixing in with potatoes, this makes the stuffing spicy but without having to bite into bits of green chilies. You can reduce or increase the amount of green chilies per taste.


LG said...

We too love this snack. Yummy!!! Last pic is cute!

NamsVeni Pothas said...

wow............Bombay Bonda in a rainy day most it is raining since yesterday. nice recipe with tempting pictures, and tasty hot hot Bondas will finish in no time.

Wer SAHM said...

yummy bonda....

R said...

delicious stuff, luv the cute presentation :)

Priya Suresh said...

Omg, love those crispy cuties, would love to munch some anytime..