Food Talk
Good old pakoras

Tasty and inexpensive, a plateful of pakoras remains a popular snack, says Pushpesh Pant

IN the South, they call them bhajiya and in Bengal the term bhaja refers to a close cousin — eaten as a starter not a snack. The daintier version is the pakori but now we are getting used to what some years ago seemed unnecessarily crude — pakora.

(In our youth, this word was reserved for the bread pakora — a potato mash-filled sandwich that provided succour to the not so well heeled hungry in hostel messes and factory canteens or to identify the non-veg intruder into an essentially vegetarian domain the chicken pakora).

What one misses the most are the life-restoring chai-pakori sessions in tea-shacks by the roadside while trekking in the hills. Countless generations of sturdy hill soldiers have proceeded to the battlefront (or returned from there) fortified by piping hot pakori, topped with pungent raita, at Koshi and Garam Pani.

Bhajiya special


Bananas raw 6-8
Besan 1 cup
Oil to deep fry
Salt to taste


Peel and slice the bananas diagonally, not very thickly. Prepare a batter of medium thick consistency. Add salt. Stir well. Heat oil in a deep thick bottomed pan till it reaches smoking point then reduce heat. Dip banana chips in the batter to coat these well and fry in small batches till golden. Remove and drain excess oil by placing these on kitchen towels/ paper napkins. Serve hot.

Never did a monsoon pass before we had gorged on the crisply fried snacks but how times change. This year we have had to cope with an unexpected ban. The girth has shown no signs of stopping its expansion and family and friends have consumed sadistically before our eyes our due.

There is the baked samosa but no substitute yet in sight for the old-fashioned deep-fried pakora. For the past few days, with the monsoon receding, hopes too have begun to fade of splurging stealthily on the street side. Come to think of fit, not many kiosks specialising on this noble snack survive in the Capital. There was a time when Malik’s, hidden behind the Regal Cinema building, served delicious paneer pakora and in Vinay Nagar, later renamed to be politically correct Sarojini Nagar, there was the corner shop tempting passers by on the Ring Road with mega-pakora prepared in season with gobhi and palak. The signage there, alas, now announces a fruit juice outlet. Gone it seems are the days when a plate of mixed pakora was with a hot cuppa was the birthright of even the most unwelcome guest.

This was fastest of the fast food prepared at home — tasty, nutritious and inexpensive. Don’t get me wrong — the most memorable pakora/pakori requires considerable culinary skill.

Long hours of practice make a difficult task look easy. First, the batter has to be of the right consistency neither too thick nor thin. A transparent drape that befits the delicate Japanese tempura looks shamelessly flimsy and certainly inadequate for the deshi damsel.

There are artistes who spike the mixed (gram-flour plus rice flour) batter with ajwain and untold exotica; then the oil has to be at just the right temperature to render the pakora golden, not brown, and finally the fried stuff has to be drained off all excess fat before serving.

A generous sprinkling of homemade — not the readymade tartaric-laden chaat — masala never hurt anyone.

We have been fantasising a lot about the various pakora we have tasted — baigan, aloo, pyaz, methi, mirchi, torai and yes, even rhododendron flowers. Now the time for the confession — we did cheat once this season and indulged to our hearts content the banana fritters offered by a Malayali friend. The no-frills basic beauty took our breath away.