When we land in Raipur, I am surprised by the traffic. After several days in Delhi we move quickly through traffic on wide, smooth roads. Though we’ve eaten a little at the Delhi airport, we are still really hungry. Fortunately, food is on the top of our hosts’ list as well. We arrive at a “heritage Restaurant” – Gadh Kalewa, an outdoor venue that serves local Chhattisgari specialities. I’ve been waiting quite some time to try this, having heard about many of the dishes from my Hindi teacher, Mitali.
One of the first things we try are gulgulle – slightly sweet balls of fried dough made with flour and jaggery. I’m especially interested to try these as several months before I made an attempt at making them and shared it here (in Hindi). The results were, shall we say, disappointing. They weren’t round, they fell apart, the outsides were crunchy and the insides were raw. Now I am finding out just how far from the mark I was: Though the taste is different, the texture is almost exactly that of a donut hole or “Timbit”. I think, perhaps, I would do well to at least taste a dish before trying to make it next time.
We have arrived late and they are clearly getting ready to close. We’re told to watch our step as the workers are already washing down the floor. We are shown to a table and one of our hosts, Ravindra orders some food.
Soon it arrives. On one plate are crispy fritters made of small balls: Sabudana vada. These are deep fried patties made of tapioca. next to them are things that at first look to me like penne pasta. Except these are solid. I’m told they’re called Fara and are made from rice. I dip one in to spicy red chutney and take a taste. I think my mind is still fixated a bit on pasta as my first thought is that the texture is like firm gnocchi. I really like them.
I have fara a couple more times on my trip and they become a favourite – and they’re a dish I don’t see anywhere else in India.
The 52 Adventures project is, of course, about trying new things and going outside my comfort zone and this sometimes means cooking something I’ve never made. This fits the bill. I’ve never cooked anything like this.
The first step, of course, is to check the Internet. I find so many different techniques. The only thing they agree on is to mix rice with rice flour to make a dough. One video says you should add water to make a dough. Another recipe is very emphatic: if your rice is relatively fresh there will be enough water in it to make a dough. Whatever you do, don’t add water or your texture will be too soft and it won’t come out good at all. A few recipes suggest adding sesame seeds to the dough and that sounds good to me.
I make some rice. I add a cup of rice to a cup of rice flour and start kneading. The rice is as fresh as you can get. And yet, it is not becoming a dough. In fact, it reminds me of the little balls of flour and butter I got when I was making pastry.
I keep trying, smashing the rice between my hands until the grains are completely obliterated. But still, this is not holding together. I break down and add a little water. And then I add a little more, and now it looks like the dough in the video.
Every recipe agrees on what they look like. To me it is the shape of penne and the texture of gnocchi. This part is easy. It is like playing with play-dough as a kid and I enjoy myself turning the dough in to a pile of uncooked fara.
Time for the next disagreement. Some recipes suggest steaming them before then adding them to a mixture of oil, dried red chillies, mustard seeds, sesame seeds, and curry leaves and frying them until they’re coated. Another suggests adding the uncooked fara to the oil/spice mixture and then, once coated, adding water, covering it all and steaming it. A third suggests steaming them, making a tadka of spices and oil and pouring it over pre-steamed fara.
I look around the kitchen and see I only have a small steamer. It will take at least four batches to get them all done. Not only that, what is “done” in this case. And so I settle on frying them in oil and spices and then steaming in the pan.
This is surprisingly easy and the kitchen soon smells amazing. I add the water and cover it. After a few minutes I check and they’re still a little doughy. I give them more time and then they’re ready. I’m surprised at how good they look.
As you saw in the first photo, in Raipur they were served with green and red chutney – the red spicy enough that several people were surprised that Sage and I could eat it at all. It was delicious. Sadly, I don’t have the recipe for those. However, I do have some coriander chutney and chili garlic paste in the fridge. I add a little dish of each to the plate.
How did it come out? Surprisingly good. The texture isn’t quite what I’d experienced in Raipur but it isn’t bad for a first attempt. The fara have a little less flavour also. I’m not sure how to address that though a Gujarati friend of mine at work said that in the similar dish she makes they steam them over water with spices in the water. Perhaps that would help though as I think about it now, that is what I did also.
I am most excited to share them with Daegan. He wasn’t able to come with us to Raipur and so had never tried them. He’s a huge fan of snacks and street food so his opinion really mattered. I wasn’t disappointed. He also liked them a lot.
So overall I call this a very successful experiment. Now I will have to try making sabudana vada.