A century of light and crispy savour: Karnataka’s amazing Maddur vada turns 100

The Maddur vada was invented by accident on a railway platform in the non-descript town of Maddur.
A century of light and crispy savour: Karnataka’s amazing Maddur vada turns 100
A century of light and crispy savour: Karnataka’s amazing Maddur vada turns 100
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There’s so much to see and experience on the road between Bengaluru and Mysuru. However, between the cocoon market of Ramnagaram, the toy shops of Channapatna, the palace of Mysore, and the heritage monuments of Srirangapatna, it would be a tragedy to miss out on the culinary treat that Maddur has become famous for – the eponymous Maddur vada.

The aroma of vada wafted the air as soon as we reached Maddur, a non-descript town in Mandya district 80 km from Bengaluru. We passed by vendors hawking packets of vada at traffic stops and several eateries stocking mounds of this piping hot snack at their counters. But we had only one destination in mind, the Maddur Tiffanyss – the customary halt for travelers on State Highway 17.

The genesis of the vada can be traced back to Ramachandra Budhya, an entrepreneur who started Vegetarian Tiffin Room (VRR) in Maddur railway station in 1917 to sell pakoras and idlis. For decades, he ran a roaring business as every passing train run on meter gauge tracks stopped at Maddur to fill up their water tanks.

Savouring nibbles of crisp vada at Tiffanyss, we listened in rapt attention to DN Chathura, (a fourth-generation descendant of HD Hebbar, who managed VRR at the station from 1948 to 1973) as he shared the story of the vada.

As Chathura narrates it, it was a culinary catastrophe on a railway platform that led to the birth of the Maddur vada. Budhya used to prepare pakoras and sell them to train passengers. One day, a train reached the station much in advance of its arrival timings. Budhya’s pakoras weren’t ready but he didn’t want to lose out on customers. So, he hit upon an idea.

Instead of wasting time attempting to make his snacks in the shape of pakoras, which would take longer to cook, he hurriedly flattened the pakora dough between his palms, turned them into vadas and fried them.

The ‘new snack’ was christened as the Maddur vada. It became popular among the local populace and also the British passengers who used to travel between Mysore and Bangalore.

Hebbar’s son, D Gopaliah, decided for the first time to sell the vadas outside the station. Identifying the highway as a potential market for his product, his son, Jayaprakash, started the eatery called Maddur Tiffanyss in 1987. Unfortunately, the original canteen at Maddur station closed down in 2017 – in the centenary year of the iconic snack – due to the invasion of unauthorized vendors peddling vadas, and an exorbitant escalation in rent.

Made with rice flour, semolina, cashew nut, sliced coconut, curry leaves and masala, the Maddur  vada continues to be a big hit in the region. The ubiquitous Maddur vadas on the Mysuru-Bengaluru train and highway are popular not only among regular passengers, but have even been the snack of choice among top politicians like former Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna, former Railway Minister Jaffer Sharief and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A number of NRIs also carry back to their overseas homes packets of vadas specially packed for international travel – with most of the oil extracted to keep the vadas from going stale.

At Tiffanyss', we were ushered into a small kitchen to watch the workers in action churning out vadas with an awesome efficiency. 1000 vadas are made in two shifts. It was an absolute delight to watch the entire process unfold – from slicing onions into thin pieces, to flattening the dough and frying the vadas.

“What makes Maddur vada unique is the ingredients used – Venugopal sooji, Nandi maida, rice flour, semolina, sliced coconut, curry leaves, refined sunflower oil.  The onions are sourced from Nasik and Pune. It is the right amount of water content that gives the vada its special taste. The main fragrances come from the onions which are sliced long and thin.  There’s also a special limited version made using cashew, khus khus, Nandini ghee and butter,” explained Chathura.

In 1948, the price of a vada was 50 paise. Now it is priced at Rs 15 per vada, with special vadas costing Rs 20. So if you are heading to Mysuru from Bengaluru, do make sure to stop off en route at Maddur to savour the crispy, light and heavenly flavor of the authentic Maddur vada.

(Susheela Nair is a freelance Food, Travel & Lifestyle Writer & Photographer contributing articles, content and images to several publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum which also includes travel portals & guide books, brochures and coffee table books. She heads Essen Communications which has a repertoire of multi-faceted services and activities like public relations, media co-ordination work, tourism related seminars and organizing photo exhibitions.)

(Photographs by Susheela Nair)

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