Most of us cherish those memories of intervals (mid day breaks) spent at the canteen back in our school days. Among the many other treats which were sold in various paisa denominations, one which is extremely special is the elantha vadai.
My friends and I never really bothered to figure out what it was made of or where it came from, all that mattered was that we ate it until our tongues went numb with the excess of sour and spice.
It was much later that I recall even being curious about this seasonal fruit called elantha pazham. Small, round and covered with skin that turned red and wrinkly when ripe, this fruit is most commonly found still being sold by street vendors. These push cart sellers who eke out a living selling seasonal produce are the ones who also offer information on the benefits of eating these rare foods.
The elantha pazham which is known as the jujube (pronounced ‘ju-jub’) or the Indian cherry is reported to be high in Vitamin C as well as an appetite stimulant. While I have never eaten the fruit in large quantities, one bite of the elantha vadai certainly does whet the appetite to a tremendous extent !
I’m not sure how popular this elantha vadai is in other parts of the country. The recipe goes back more than several generations because I’ve heard my grandmother ( who is in her 90s) and her sisters talk about eating elantha vadai when they were little.
For the longest time, my grandmother would make sure that when the fruit was in season it went through the time consuming process of making her grandson’s (my brother) favourite elantha pazham snack! The fruit would be cleaned, sun–dried and pounded with tamarind pulp, dried red chillies, salt and jaggery before being flattened into discs which are what we here refer to as a vadai.
Now this emulsion of flavors come in different textures.The traditional one was where the jujube fruit seed was left intact when forming the vadai. It was meant to be slowly savoured in the mouth until the pulp got dissolved and the large round seeds were rolled about around the palate to extract maximum taste.
In our canteen at school, we also got the same mixture blended to more of a fine paste or into thin rounds which could be easily torn apart and chewed. The fine paste however required a whole other eating technique. Since they were sold in small plastic sachets, it involved tearing the rim of the packets open and then using the teeth to extricate every bit of that delicious pure. Sometimes there would be telltale smudges around the lips or corners of the mouth but we were quite oblivious to it all !
The elantha vadai made a re-entry into my food habits only a few years ago. It was almost as if it had stayed buried back then along with the forgotten stories of childhood mischief, madness and drama. When I discovered it at Town hall, I still remember my eyes widening and the enthusiasm which I displayed to the push cart seller. No wonder he was convinced that I wasn’t a local !
So if you’re like me and would love to rekindle those elantha pazham days do head to the Big bazaar, Raja street, Vysial street areas…the ripe fruit are easy to spot a mile away and if you’re lucky they may even have some home-made elantha vadai up for grabs.
If you want to buy elantha vadai commercially (seedless and with seed), Vinupriya foods at Big Bell Complex on DB road have fresh stock coming in almost every day.
Tuck in to this delicious treat and regale the young ones with some of your favourite elantha pazham escapades.