Pakora, the Ultimate Snack

India has the most desirable array of street food and snacks. I love them all. Samosa, pakora, bhajii, bonda, aloo chat, and vada are just a few of the Indian treats whose names have become familiar to many Australians over the last 40 years. I enjoy going to the nearby Monday market ( or rather I did,¬† back in the pre-Covid¬† days when big junk markets were still operating ) just to visit the colourful Indian Sikh tent for a morning snack, usually a freshly made samosa, or even better, a plate of samosa chat, a plate brimming with hot chana masala, topped with a samosa, the pyramid draped with yoghurt, green and tamarind chutneys. Balancing the loaded paper plate while standing was always a fearful business. Samosa chat covers late breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea in one go. Most suburban Indian restaurants offer a few standard snacks as starters on their menus but there’s a catch here. Start with a few tempting aloo bhaji, samosa or pakora and there’s not much room for mains.

eggplant pakora, batter a mixture of besan and lentil flour, with green sauce.

Pakoras make the best afternoon tea or accompaniment to beer. I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t love them. When I make pakoras, the wolves appear from nowhere. Lust and greed overcome good manners. Just have pity on the poor cook chained to the stove, making more on demand. If you are that cook, I advise you to keep a saucer of dipping sauce handy, so that you can eat as you go and not miss out.

the flour and spice for pakora before adding water.

Over the years, I’ve adapted my pakora batter recipe. In the 1980s, I used recipes by Charmaine Solomon and Jacki Passmore, my only Indian cookbooks at that time. Since then, my Indian collection has expanded, now numbering around 15 but who is counting. The variation on the pakora theme is enormous. Some recipes include a little self raising flour to the base of besan flour ( chick pea flour) providing more puff to the batter. Others add nigella seeds, ajwaiin seeds, garam masala, salt, sliced green chilli, chopped garlic, chilli powder. Everyone’s Indian grandmother has the most authentic recipe, I’m sure. I add a little rice flour to my mixture which gives the batter more crunch. Sometimes I play with a mixture of besan flour and very fine red lentil flour, especially when making onion bhaji, a close relative of the pakora. It’s easier to¬† just wing it with additions so long as you start with around one cup of besan flour in your mixing bowl. The following recipe is a good version.

Pakora Batter Recipe

  • 120 gr of besan flour ( or 100 gr besan plus 20 gr rice flour)¬†
  • 1 teaspoon ajwaiin seeds¬†
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and gradually add 275 ml of water to the batter while whisking. The batter should be thickish but loose enough to coat the back of the spoon and gently drip down. 

Heat some canola oil in a wok, or heavy based saucepan. Don’t skimp on the depth of the oil- your pakhoras need to be deep fried and must be covered. Test the heat of the oil by adding a little batter to see if it’s ready. Coat individual vegetable pieces, such as eggplant, potato onion rings, cauliflower or broccoli with the batter and deep fry until cooked through and dark golden in colour. If you are making mixed vegetable pakora, as shown in the picture below, chop 250 gr vegetables and mix through the batter before frying spoonfuls. My last combination included diced eggplant, finely shredded silverbeet ( chard) and thinly sliced and halved onion rings.¬†

Mixed pakora with green sauce.

Green Sauce Recipe

  • 25 gr mint leaves, chopped
  • 25 gr coriander leaves, chopped
  • 2 green chillies, chopped
  • 1 garlic chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbls sugar
  • 1 teas salt
  • 125 g ( 1/2 cup) plain yoghurt

Place in a food processor and blend till smooth. Store in fridge for 30 minutes to allow the faavours to settle before use. Make the sauce before the pakora. If herbs are in short supply, serve with yoghurt or a commercial chutney, thinned down with yoghurt.  My kids like pakora dipped in soy sauce, totally inauthentic but still good.

eggplant pakora, batter a mixture of besan and lentil flour, with green sauce.

Notes.

The batter makes and excellent coating for deep fried, battered fish. I often add some turmeric if using with fish.

The recipes are based on two found in Spice Kitchen, Ragini Dey, 2013. 

A big loud applause to Melbourne’s Sikh Volunteers Australia, who make and deliver 650 meals each day to vulnerable people within the community. They are currently building a larger kitchen. They have a facebook page with details for donations and many happy photos.¬†

 

Balinese Cuisine at the Warung.

Food, glorious food, glorious Balinese food. It’s one of the reasons I keep returning to this beautiful island. Good Balinese food is seductive yet quite subtle. Two famous Balinese sambals,¬†sambal matah and sambal merah, add depth to a simple grilled fish or chicken, while the combination of white pepper and coriander seeds, turmeric and galangal, purple shallot, lemongrass, palm sugar, chilli, and terasi ( fish paste) are pounded together to make a rich tasting bumbu, or Balinese spice paste, the basis for a simple curry.

Warung in the Sindhu Night Market

There are many tiers of eating establishments, or rumah makan, in Bali: you can pay a fortune at an upmarket international hotel, continuing to eat the cuisine from your home country, or watered down versions of local cuisine in a Western style restaurant, or you can try a more authentic and economical meal at a simple warung. A warung is a small family owned eating place, often located on the street or beach. Some may look a little ramshackle and temporary, often with small benches and plastic stools, and will usually be patronised by locals.  Other modern warungs have sprung up in the beach suburbs around Sanur, but some bare no relationship to the real thing.

Many warungs are made from wooden, bamboo or thatched materials, perhaps with tin walls. In the past, the Warung tenda, a portable warung that looked like a tent, was more common, with roofing and walls made from Chinese blue and white plastic tarps. Other interesting warungs include kitchen carts on wheels, colourful bright blue Bakso stalls, motorbikes with gas cookers, and night market warungs set up with little tables and chairs. Warungs also tend to specialise in one or two dishes which are often based on a secret family recipe.

Morning bubur cart travels around the back suburban streets of Sanur, sounding a morning bell. Rice porridge comes with tasty toppings like ground peanuts.

I’ll admit It takes a brave heart to venture into the¬†tasty world of the¬† street¬†warung: you need to assess the cleanliness of these eateries and often that’s quite hard. Word of mouth, and popularity with locals- these are good indicators. Also check out the washing up facilities and water used. Good warungs are clean as hundreds of locals eat here every day. You may need to know a few food words, and simple phrases if you have special dietary preferences as often there’s no menu or price. Tanpa daging ( without meat) or tidak daging ( not meat) will suffice if you don’t eat meat. As food is often cooked to order, a warung cook is happy to adjust a recipe for you, leaving out ingredients that you don’t like.

Not all warungs are cheap: a few located around the Sanur beaches have become famous, rating highly on TA and frequented more by tourists than locals. One popular grilled fish restaurant, Amphibia, operates flat-out from midday till late. They work from a small tin shed, and grill the fish and seafood on a charcoal BBQ set up on raised platforms outside. Bench seating is nearby. You order your fish, lobster, prawns, octopus, squid and clams by weight, then they are barbecued and served with rice and vegetable urab and sambal. These boys never stop. They buy the fish early in the morning at Jimbaran, then store it under ice in large tanks: during lulls in business, you can watch them tenderising and peeling octopus, cleaning prawns and fish, running hoses around the place and stoking the BBQ with charcoal. A share plate of snapper, prawn, shrimp, a few calamari rings and razor clams is AU$20. Sit on a little stool on the beach and share the platter, washed down with a Bintang beer.

Hot work. Cooking at Amphibia. Sindhu Beach, Bali

Another Warung favoured by Westerners is Jackfish, a family run business right on the beach just past Semawang. Nyoman, the brains behind this warung, trained as a mechanical engineer but after working off shore for years, decided to open a fish themed Warung. His mother waits on tables and makes the Urab ( mild tasting Balinese salad made from bean shoots, green beans and coconut ). His father sorts cutlery and napkins and helps with the accounts. Nyoman does the grilling, waiting on tables and everything else. The family come from five generations of fishermen, and now source their¬†daily deliveries from local sources. They often cater for large parties so check before hand as Jackfish closes when they do large groups. When I’m staying in the Semawang end of Sanur, I eat at Jackfish everyday, it’s that good.

Grilled snapper, rice, urab, and two sambals. IDR 60,000/AU $6. Jackfish is located right on the sand at the southern end of Sanur.

Energetic Nyoman of Jackfish, Semawang Beach, Sanur, Bali

When in the mood for snacks, I head for¬†warungs specialising in deep-fried foods, called¬†¬†Gorengun. At these little carts you’ll find feep fried springrolls, deep-fried tofu or Tahu Isi ( Tofu stuffed with bean shoots)¬†and battered gado-gado and other things with tofu, as well as an array of sweets such as Onde-Onde. A bag of 8 snacks will cost around AU$1 and will come with a few green chillies and chilli sauce.

Tasty deep-fried vegetarian snacks from a Gorengan cart at the Sindhu Nightmarket, where a $1 goes a long way.

The Warung situated right in front of the Bunjar Pantai Semawang, has great ocean views and is well sheltered from the wind. They do the best spring rolls in the district. Three large vegetable lumpia ( AU$1.50) make a tasty lunchtime snack. Try with a mug of hot lemon tea ( AU.65c) a fresh juice ( AU$1.50)  or cut straight to the chase with a chilled Bintang to wash them down.

Satu Bintang besar, dua gelas, Terima Kasih.

Guide to Balinese Cuisine here

Morning Street Food in Bali

I’ve really taken to Balinese street food lately, especially at breakfast time. At around 6 am, a few Balinese women arrive at the beach end of Jalan Pantai Sindhu and set up small stalls along the brick walls. They come laden with baskets on their heads, after cooking the morning snacks at home. They sell out quickly and are gone by 9.30 am. One young woman sells a fabulous array of Indonesian cakes, as well as tahu isi, and Balinese thick black coffee. The other older woman sells large wedges of cut fruit, rempeyek cacang¬†(peanut krupuk) and triangular packets of rice with a little spicy condiment and a hard-boiled egg: open the package and it becomes your plate, then eat with your fingers Indonesian style.

Sweet cake lady

It’s an idyllic start to the day, slowly waking with the sun rising over the ocean. sitting in a traditional Balinese platform on the sand.¬†Here’s my list of favourite kue ( snacks) from that shy vendor:

  • tahu isi-¬†a large square of tofu stuffed with bean shoots then deep-fried in batter served with a small green chilli which you insert into the middle.

    Tahu isi. Stuffed and fried tofu.

    Inside the tahu isi
  • ¬†dadar gulung – a green pandanus leaf¬† rice flour pancake rolled up and stuffed with grated coconut and palm sugar

    Dadar Gulung, rolled pandanus pancake stuffed with coconut and palm sugar.
  • ¬†kue pisang,¬†made from rice flour, coconut milk and sugar filled with slices of banana, the mixture is wrapped in banana leaf then steamed.

    Kue pisang for me.

    Mr T’s favourite green stuffed cake. I don’t yet know the name of this one, but it has a similar stuffing to Dadar Gulung.
  • klepon¬†, green-coloured balls of rice cake filled with liquid palm sugar and coated in grated coconut. The liquid explodes when you bite into it. Made from rice flour, pandanus paste or powder, palm sugar or coconut sugar, grated coconut.
  • onde- onde. Round balls that look a bit like Moshi, but are completely different and taste rather healthy.¬†Made from glutinous rice, mung bean (or lotus) paste, sugar, sesame seeds.

    round balls with sesame seeds are Onde- Onde
  • Kue Talam, a two layered steamed cake, usually in two colours, made from¬†rice flour, steamed sweet potato, palm sugar, tapioca, and coconut milk.

Sindhu Beach, 6.30 am. Cake and Coffee vendor

The young woman, my new best friend, doesn’t speak English and I have just enough Bahasa Indonesia to get by. You’ll need to know your numbers, along with a few other words like gula (sugar) pisang¬†(banana) kopi (coffee),¬†tahu (tofu) and ketan ( sticky rice) or just wing it. Each cake and snack is a taste sensation and at dua ribu¬†/ IDR 2000/ AU 20 cents a piece, it’s hard to go wrong.¬†Although there is a little palm sugar in each of these bites, they are not overly sweet, and go well with thick black coffee. Those containing sticky rice are rather filling too.

Which one today?

In the past, these Balinese cakes came wrapped in banana leaves, as did most street food items. You now notice that these tasty treasures from morning street vendors use plastic wrapping or sealed in cellophane. Some snacks, such as¬†pisang goreng¬†¬†(banana fritters) and kue pisang come plastic free. Of course, if I had eaten the huge banquet breakfast in my hotel, or opted for one seated at a little cafe nearby, I would be completely oblivious to the amount of plastic used along with the food waste that these places produce. The young woman photographed collects all the plastic waste she sells. It’s heartening to know that Bali is now addressing the plastic issue, with recycling bins prominently displayed.

Morning fruit with a squeeze of lime. Fallen Frangipani blossom.

Today’s breakfast of two coffees, two pieces of stuffed tofu, two little cakes, a wedge of watermelon and a wedge of papaya came to AU$2. I prefer this style of breakfast to the big banquet western style breakfast. It’s another chance to eat like a local, watching as they pull up on motorbikes to grab a coffee and a quick snack, and to catch a glimpse of Agung rising above the sea.

See list of popular Indonesian Kue here

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Sunday Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai

A visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand, never seems complete without attending the famous Sunday Walking Street Market. The market takes over four streets in the centre of the old city, beginning at the Tha Pae Gate at one end and running down the one kilometer length of Ratchadamnoen Road and spilling into nearby side streets. The area is closed to traffic from 4 pm until midnight. The market is popular with locals and tourists and is packed, especially round dinner time.

Fresh fruit shakes ready to be blended. 30 Bhat.

On one side, just after sunset, a lone singer appears dressed in a policeman’s uniform. This year he is a serious looking young man: he sings a mournful ballad in Thai. In previous years, that same spot was occupied by an older policeman with an Elvis slick back hairstyle and dark sunglasses, who only sang Elvis Presley songs. Sometimes his 8-year-old daughter performed alongside him. Bring back the Elvis cop. But are they really policemen? I’ll never know. I’m not sure who to ask in this crowded, stall filled corner.

Sunday walking market, Chiang Mai, ’17

Nearby stands the Thai musical instrument stall. Late at night, a troupe of elderly musicians will sit gracefully on a tiny platform and play traditional Lan Na music that is so haunting, it usually makes me cry. The instruments look and sound foreign to the untrained ear.

Ancient Thai instruments.

Midst this crowd, a troupe of blind singers suddenly appears. They move slowly holding a lamp: the crowds step aside as they make their way courageously through the throng, singing melodic Thai tunes in harmony.

Stalls with paper lanterns, stalls with far too much colour, handmade items are a feature of this market. The kitsch nestles side by side with the tasteful. Soft leather wallets and hand-made shoes, artistic etched calico shopping bags, carved psychedelic soaps and interesting fish patterned ceramics, hand printed t-shirts and indigo dyed clothing, home-made cakes, biscuits and sweets, and an abundance of street food stalls, the latter nestled into the front courtyards of temples, it’s a big night out for Thai families. Junk food abounds: there are deep-fried insects and grilled air- dried squid, Thai sausages and pad thai, mango sticky rice, and k√īw soy,¬†sweet tropical fruit drinks and some based on tinned Carnation milk. Dotted throughout are small areas offering massage for foot and leg or shoulder and neck. After walking slowly and hesitantly for two or three kilometers in a crowd, you may need one.

The annual Chiang Mai T-shirt purchase. One with a guitar please.

Feeling exhausted and slightly deranged, we wander back to our hotel near Wat Phra Singh and down a large bottle of Chang beer. The market’s sensory overload takes its toll but I wouldn’t miss it for Bhat.

The Biggest, Sweetest, and Ugliest Street Pancake.

We lined up one Sunday evening, along with many other locals of a middle class suburb of Jakarta, to order a large, sweet pancake cooked over coals. We order a Martabak Manis Special – basically a big, sweet pancake with the lot – completely unaware about what ‘the lot’ entailed.

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First the pancake batter is poured into a largish pan and cooked slowly over glowing coals. When almost ready, a cup of sugar is sprinkled over the top. The cooked pancake is then moved to a bench, where a cup of more of Blue Band margarine is slathered over the top. As the hot pancake absorbs the margarine, more is added.  ImageImageImage

Then comes a thick layer of grated chocolate, then some grated kraft cheese ( !!), then a ground peanut layer, followed by a toasted coconut layer.  The monster is then rolled and sliced and lands in a box. It costs a hefty AU$10.00, not cheap by Indonesian standards.

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The moment of truth arrives back at B’s sister’s house. We take a piece, and then a tiny bit more. Unbelievably sweet, rich, and just ridiculously fattening and nauseating. Once in a lifetime for this sweet treat.