This write-up is for Tharini's theme on traditions this month at DMC. With the festival season in swing now with navarathri under way, I first wanted to do a post on Navarathri and Deepavali, but I changed my mind and I am going to do this post on a slightly different topic – the ‘vadakam/vathal’ (rice crispies) preparing tradition. I don’t know if this officially qualifies as a tradition but this has been something in which everyone in our family were involved in and we enjoyed every bit of it. For people who are not aware of vadakams (vadaams as I call it) – they are deep fried crispies made out of rice flour or sago and have a gorgeous, melt-in-your-mouth taste and they are excellent side dishes with traditional South Indian rice items like lemon rice or puliyodharai. It is also an excellent snack, not very healthy though ;) and it comes second only to pakoda to be enjoyed on a rainy day with a cup of tea. Usually the vadaam season starts in late April or early May before Agni Nakshatram (the time when temperatures peak during the summer). My Paati (Paternal Grand Mom) initiates the preparations and all the ingredients needed like Javvarisi (sago/sabudhana), green chillies, lemon would be purchased and ticked off the list. The veshti (dhoti) on which the vadaams are laid on, are washed thoroughly and dried. My Grand mom used to prepare several different kinds of vadakam – thenkuzhal vadakam, javvarisi vadakam, koozh vadakam are the usual stuff. Sometimes the more exotic varieties like vengaya vadaam (onion vadaam)also feature on the menu.
Before the day vadaams are prepared, Paati instructs me to go to the milling machine near our house and grind the soaked and dried up rice according to the vadaam requirement. She would find a teeny weeny piece of paper, she didn’t like wastage :) and write down in tiny hand writing the exact way in which the flour should be ground. The lady at the mill was very respectful and affectionate towards Paati and she would follow Paati’s instructions very religiously and grind the rice flour exactly like Paati wants. On that day, everyone is usually awake at the crack of dawn and she prepares the dough for the vadaams. Each vadaam requires a different proportion of ingredients and cooking time. I find the vadaam dough absolutely delicious (even better than the vadaam itself) and would eat some when Paati or Amma are not looking :) Paaati prepares all the dough patiently and everyone is ready to go to the terrace at our home by 5 ‘o’ clock in the morning. There the dhotis are laid down and stones are placed in the corners to prevent it from flying. Then the prepared dough is put into thenkuzhal achu (mould) and would be pressed onto the dhoti in neat rows. If it is koozh vadaam then we would just take it in a ladle and pour it in a oval shape on the dhoti. I, my sister and my Mom would press the vadaam onto the dhoti while Paati would supervise. We would place a black umbrella nearby to scare away the crows that come to eat the vadaam. It would take a good two hours before all the dough is finished and laid out in neat rows on the dhoti and the sun would have risen by then. There the vadaams would lie, on our terrace drying up in the sun all day. In the evening we would bring it back and then dry the vadaams a few more times until it is nice and crisp. Of course the best part is eating puliyodharai with the deep fried newly prepared vadaams. Every year we used to look forward to this vadaam tradition though I haven’t done it here in Portland. So vadaam is kind of a rare commodity here and I always ask my Mom or In laws to pack some vadaams when they visit here. Not too bad if I indulge once in a while isn't it?
And here is a picture of the yummy vadaams! The last few pieces left in my stock actually.