'Medu vada' is a quintessential part of every south Indian breakfast, and no, this is not me being ignorant. Every southern state of India has some version of the vada that is a staple breakfast snack! The best way to describe it to a non-Indian audience would be a round savoury doughnut made from black lentils. It is THE reason I particularly love south Indian food, and you'd have to experience the delicacy in person, at a roadside stall in Chennai, served as hot as the blistering sun, to understand why I say that!
It has a crispy thin exterior, with a cloud-like fluffy interior, usually garnished with coarsely ground black pepper and a blend of spices so subtle that you'll wonder about their presence even as you devour the snack. Served traditionally with a couple of chutneys and 'sambar', it is a perfectly balanced meal with equal proportions of carbs, protein and fat.
Yeah, I know that it's deep-fried, and that does not make it too healthy! 🙄 Speak for yourself. 😋 I deserve a vada now and then, as does the Tamilian, Keralite and Kannadiga population who use a minimal amount of oil in their otherwise simple daily diet.
While the chutneys add a texture of their own, the sambar is the true partner in crime for this humble doughnut. Sambar is a thin curry made using a blend of lentils, spices, and fresh garden vegetables, almost akin to a diluted spicy stew. Yum! And whenever you have a doughnut with curry, the only question that comes to mind is this - do you dunk it or not?
If you think that this question is too trivial to spend five minutes on, then
a. Clearly, we do not see eye to eye on food
b. Butter on Toast is not the blog for you 😅
I've always lived the dipping life, never had a piece of medu vada that wasn't dipped in sambar first. My introduction to the opposition happened on a road trip from Bengaluru to Chikmagalur. One of my fellow travellers and close friend cringed when I dipped my vada in the sambar. I distinctly remember his reaction - "Eewww, how can you do that!" It took me a while to register that his comment was directed at my dipping action rather than any other disgusting action that I may have committed involuntarily.
Anyway, once I recovered from that shock, we had a fair bit of discussion on his aversion to dipping, which contributed heavily to this post. So, let's quickly get down to it - pros vs cons.
Pros of dipping
The first no-brainer is that vadas are destined for great dunkin! I know that's not much of an argument, but think about it scientifically. You've got a mildly flavoured, mostly bland sponge that can soak liquids on one side. You've got a heavily flavoured, spicy curry on the other side. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that this is a match made in heaven!
Another obvious advantage is the explosion of flavour in your mouth. You are no longer experiencing the two textures separately, one after the other, but rather a blissful curry soaked ball of goodness that only gives you a warm feeling in the stomach.
It's hilarious that I'm advocating this when I very proudly mentioned that I'd prefer buttering my bread after I've toasted it. 😂 I guess hypocrisy originates from the stomach. 😋
A third advantage of dipping the vada is the logistics. The ideal bite of medu vada needs to have the trifecta of doughnut, sambar and chutney. If you dunk the vada, two of the actions overlap, thus making it a much more relaxed affair to have the medu vada! No one wants to see grown-up adults fumble for proportionate spoonfuls of sambar and chutney to match the quantity of vada that they just ate! 😅
Cons of dipping
What makes the sponge-like nature of vada critical to the dunking ironically also makes a case for not doing it. Let me explain. You obviously lose the reassuring crunch that a dry vada provides, but dipping a vada could work when the actual doughnut is fresh and perfectly crispy with a good bounce to it. Even a slightly stale or mushy doughnut could easily over-soak in the sambar and spoil the entire experience. It's exactly similar to how I'd like a bunch of firm noodles to soak up a good ramen broth, but I won't like soggy noodles dripping with broth. 😖
Moreover, there is an extension of this particular con that makes dunking further unbearable. When a doughnut becomes stale or mushy, you can distinctly taste the oil that has seeped into the dough. Now, imagine if that same oil seeped into the beautiful sambar and formed a weird emulsion! What's worse, if you accidentally squeeze the vada while it is inside the sambar, you're going to have an oil eruption on your hands! 😱
But the real con of dunking hides in plain sight - the absence of choice. What if the sambar is not good? What if the chutney is far superior? What if you want to try different combinations to figure out your perfect balance? A dipped vada can never be un-dipped.
Lol, that got too dark too fast. 😅
But while the action of dunking a vada or not depends on individual taste and textural preference, I want to end this post by discussing the meta-implications of dipping a vada. 😁
What does it say about you if you love a dipped vada?
The most literal meta-interpretation could be that dunkers commit. To blindly believe in a sambar shows either deep dedication to the humble pairing or a naive belief that every cook understands the gravity of the responsibility on their hands. 😁
The second-order interpretation could be the fact that dunkers are rarely sceptics. They believe that no matter what, most vadas could do well dipped in sambar. No doubt, no regrets. On the other hand, non-dippers approach the world with a consistent dash of scepticism. 🤨
The third order inference is miraculously simple. Dunkers are inherently lazy when it comes to experiencing anything. If it would be culturally acceptable, they'd probably dunk the vada in a mix of sambar and chutney. Being one myself, I can acknowledge that this thought has crossed my mind occasionally. 😅
But no matter what the literal or meta-inferences of dipping a vada are, all of us need to remember only one thing. As long as that trifecta of vada-sambar-chutney continues to enter our stomach, this discussion stays alive!
BRB, going for a dunk.