As kids, we were always happy to have houseguests, known as 'pahune'. We would hang around them, observing their ways, curious about the novel or different personal effects and habits of guests, asking them umpteen questions, rushing to serve them and guide them around. And if they had kids of our age, all the more fun to play with!
In the days of postcards and inland letters, when the telephone was seen more as a status symbol rather than being an instrument of utility, these houseguests dropped in without notice. A telegram would sometimes harbinger their arrival, but often it was just a knock on the door and then the ensuing excitement or perhaps exasperation (for our elders)!
Whatever the case, we kids would only see that they were welcomed warmly and nobody thought it was disruptive of their routine to have unannounced guests- in fact it was routine to have them!
Every meal prepared at home always had the potential of being stretched comfortably to feed a few extra mouths and our mothers and their mothers before them weren’t flustered one bit, at least we didn’t hear of it. One didn’t have put them up in a ‘guest bedroom’ – they were happy to sleep wherever they could be accommodated - on futon like cotton mattresses or dhurries or satranji rugs spread in the drawing room or even on the roof top terrace. We would happily join them, so we could chat away into the wee hours. Even the houseguests were prepared to put up with whatever inconveniences they had to face.
Guests usually brought some gifts or the other. Barely patient for them to settle down, we lay in wait for their unpacking of their stuff – yes you are right- for gifts! If they came bearing none, their departure was awaited. Don’t get me wrong! We knew from experience that if they hadn’t got us any gifts in kind, they would give us cash while leaving! We always touched the feet in a namskar to seek the blessings of grown-ups. At such times, it was customary for them to dip into their pockets and press some notes or coins into us kids' hands. The earliest memories of this ritual I have is of receiving a shining coin of one rupee, known as ‘banda rupaya’. We used to love to hoard these coins and use them to supplement our very scarce pocket money! Gradually this gift was jacked up to 5, 10, 50, 100 rupees and so on… On a recent visit to India, I discovered that this cash gift has now gone up to thousands of rupees!
Back to why the houseguests of yore were exciting, we kids looked forward to the sweets and savouries they brought with them. Another nice custom guests followed was to bring gifts of homemade sweets like besan or rava laddus and barfis and savouries likes chaklis and chivda. We also looked forward to gifts of shop-bought specialty stuff like the petha (candied ash gourd) from Agra or Bhopal, banana chips fried in coconut oil from Kerala, pedhas from Dharwad, kunda and mande from Belgaum, chikki from Lonavla, Mahim halwa from Mumbai, chocolates from visitors coming from overseas… the list is endless. But our most favourite was the mango burfi (amba wadi) and the savouries like the Lakshmi Narayan chivda and spring rolls called bakarwadi from the famous Chitale Bandhu Mitahiwale of Pune! These were absolute delights and such a treat!
Today, all major Indian snack food producers make the bakarwadi. What more, we get Chitale’s bakarwadi not only in Hyderabad but even in Melbourne! However, in keeping with the general (populist?) trend of jacking up the heat factor of all savouries (Why, oh why!!) these bakarwadis literally scald and skin your mouths!
This Diwali, I recreated the bakarwadi of our childhood, at my terms of taste!
Bakarwadi – a savoury spring roll slice or wadi, with dry stuffing known as bakar!
For the pastry
¾ cup plain flour
¾ cup besan (garbanzo flour)
2 tbsp rice flour
1 ½ tbsp oil for shortening
Salt to taste
Water to make a stiff dough
For the filling
2 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp fine sev
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander (optional)
½ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala or Maharashtrian goda masala powder
1 tbsp red chilli powder (or more)
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp hing
1 tsp fennel seed powder
1 tsp amchur (dry mango powder) (you can use an equal amount of thick tamarind paste instead and to taste)
1 tbsp brown sugar
Salt to taste
1 tsp oil to bind the mixture
Mix the flour, salt and oil together and knead into a stiff and smooth dough using as little water as possible. Knead well for a few minutes and keep covered for about 30 minutes, so the dough relaxes.
In the meantime, lightly toast poppy seeds and sesame seeds in a pan. Remove in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients for the stuffing. Adjust the taste to your liking. Add the oil and mix it thoroughly. The stuffing should hold itself together if pinched together, but still be dry enough to be sprinkled onto the dough circles.
Divide the dough into equal sized balls. Roll out a ball into a thin chapati like disc shape and sprinkle the filling evenly in a thin layer all over the chapati. Roll the chapati tight and fold the ends. Pressing it firmly but without changing the shape of the log, tightly seal the ends. Roll the log lightly to ensure uniform distribution of the stuffing between the layers. Cut the log into equal sized thick slices about 2 cms wide. Make sure each piece is rolled up securely. In this process, the slice or roundel will become slightly flattened, but that is to be expected.
Heat oil in a kadhai and fry these pieces by placing them in the oil, upright and not flat. Fry the wadis evenly until golden brown. Some of the filling may escape the rolls, but that doesn’t matter!
Drain on kitchen paper and allow to cool and crisp. Repeat this with all the balls of dough, and fry them batch-by-batch. Serve as a snack with drinks or with a cup of tea. Or just pop one into the mouth whenever you feel like!