Pakora Recipe From Yore

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A few years ago, I found a pakora recipe amid a stack of ancestral documents at my parents' place. It is said to be dictated by my great grandmother, who at that time was probably in her thirties, living with her in-laws in a joint family. According to the family lore, a firang had visited their home and the great grandmother had made some tea and pakoras for the guest. He liked the spicy, crispy fritters so much that he asked for its recipe to carry back home to England.

The mother of twelve didn’t know how to read or write, but her children, especially sons, were quite proficient in Hindi and Sanskrit. The tenth child in particular was a prodigy. He was merely six years old, but was able to put down on a paper whatever he was told, verbatim. Therefore, the mother might have sat him down to dictate the recipe.

The paper I found is yellow and brittle, but the calligraphy transcribed on it with a reed pen looks like an elaborate intricate ornament. Here I present an English translation for you:




Place—Almora
Date—17 July, 1912
As told by—My Mother
The one who wrote—Pooran Chandra

If you want to make pakoras, you need to plan many months in advance. First, you will have to sow the seeds of kala chana or chick peas in the month of Ashwin or Kartika. When this crop is ready, you will collect the dried chick peas, remove their skins, and grind them in a chakki to make besan or flour.
Wait a moment, I see a ghasiyaran (a woman who cuts and scrapes grass for cattle) in our field. “Hey, you thief, may your mother die of plague! May your cattle perish in a land slide! May you get infested with vermin! Aren’t you ashamed, stealing grass from others' field. Get out of here, you rotten scumbag!”

Hmm… write:—  you need to plant a vegetable garden, too, in which you should grow onion, potatoes, spinach, radish, lai, egg-plant, cauliflower, chilies, turmeric, cumin, and coriander.


What is it with this old hag? She doesn’t let me have a moment of peace. I was eleven when I came to this house, and since then, she has been hovering over my head like Baital. Hold on, hag, I am doing some important work.

Okay, for cooking oil, mustard crop is the best. You may already have salt, bought from the  shoks (Tibetan hawkers), at your home.

You too? The hag must have sent you after me. You folks don’t think that I am a human being that I need some personal time. You treat me worse than slaves. That doomni (field worker) is better off than I am. At least, her husband talks sweetly with her. All the other men go to Dilli and Bumbai and bring trinkets for their wives. What have you given me? Every year you swell my belly, that’s all. Leave us alone. Now don't try to browbeat me. Go wipe your face with your mother's pallu.

Yes, Purnia, we have got besan, vegetables, spices, oil, and salt….and if your mother or wife cooks food at home, you must also have a chulha or a stove in your kitchen. In case you don’t have one, you can make it by placing three stones of equal height and burning dry wood in the middle of it. You will also need fresh drinking water from a stream.
When you have all these things, chop some onion, green chilies and other vegetables and keep them aside. Grind some cumin seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric, and salt on a sil-batta (grinding stone) and keep this paste aside as well. Now take some besan or gram flour in a mixing bowl and add some drinking water to make a paste, after that add the chopped vegetables and the spice paste to it and mix well.
What? Shyamu along with the other hooligans misbehaved with a ghasiyaran? The lowly creatures, scums of the society, idiots, morons!  How many times do I have to explain to you all that you should respect girls and women? If Shyamu doesn't ask forgiveness from the girl by rubbing his nose on the ground, I will parade him naked around the village. Thinks he is Kisan Kanhaiya? I won't be surprised if someday a ghasiyaran hacks him with her scythe.

Now heat cooking oil in a wok over the chulha, and fry small portions of the size of your nose from the mixture. Turn them with a slotted spoon until slightly golden brown, and then strain them out. Eat these hot pakoras with tea.
It looks like this recipe did not reach its destination, but I am happy that it has survived long enough for me to read and share its content with you.

25 comments:

  1. The pakoras were very delicious with the spicy ghaiyaran and kishan kanihaya chutney as accompaniment:) Lovely Giribala:)

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  2. My goodness ! the things you think of ! I really enjoyed reading this .. spicy hot pakoras and the embellishments were even better :)

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  3. You have recreated an entire age, complete with high life and low life, on the pretext of recording recipe for pakoras. Kudos to your art.

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    1. Agree with you - true talent shines anywhere - even with a pakora recipe....

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    2. Thanks Umashankar, thanks Saumya :-)

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  4. What a read! :) Thorough;y enjoyed!

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  5. Oh goodness! I made the mistake of reading this at work. Now I have to deal with people thinking of me as slightly off-the-onion, but it is totally worth it! Thanks for the laugh! AMAZING!

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  6. How do you think of such stuff? One of my favorites pieces so far.

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  7. That was one superlative post. I love the brevity of your words that capture so much in such few lines. Had a hearty laugh early in the morning!

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  8. Ah ha! I thought it will be a boring recipe but look at what you created!

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  9. And,men think they order and there come Pakoras.

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  10. So your granny had the same sense of humor or your imaginative mind made it so delicious :D

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    1. Thanks Jaspreet! Do you think so? You know it's usually the outsiders who can detect the similarity!

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  11. Boy, do I love chaos! God bless the six year old.

    Although, when I scrolled up after reading to recheck the "Place" in the header, I half expected it to be Guwahati.

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  12. I have step one and two done- the sowing of the channa seeds and the vegetables. I think my pakodas should be ready by January. Would be great if you could come over to try some. Thank you for sharing the recipe!

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    Replies
    1. Sure Shumaila! We will have a Pakora Party when your crops are ready!

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