Saturday, June 23, 2007

Vatali Dal and Bombay

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Mumbai holds a special place in my heart, not the hoity-toity, dazzling Mumbai of the rich and famous, but Mumbai of the far flung suburbs. Mumbai was the first place where I got my taste of independence, my first pay check and a place where I had lots of fun.

When I decided to take up the job in Mumbai instead of the one I got in Kolkata after graduating, my Baba was perturbed and very much so. He finally came around because of my Ma but accompanied me to settle me down in the big bad city. Once there, he again got his fits, the PG's weren’t good enough, the small one room apartments asked for a huuuuuge deposit, the trains were crowded and he almost put his foot down and wanted me to go back with him. Thankfully my workplace was not in one of the posh areas of Mumbai but was in Borivali where it was still possible to rent a one room flat with the meager salary that the company paid me.

So there I was happy with my new found independence, a one room flat shared with a roommate, a cute red clix stove and some friends. Since we were still in the training phase of the job and the work place had a pretty decent roof top cafeteria, a major amount of the day was spent in deciding on the menu, eating and the chatting over tea or coffee with colleagues who were more friends than anything else.

Also since I tend to gravitate towards foodies in general and tend to gel with them better, I found a very good friend in J a girl in my training batch but from a different college. The first thing we would do every morning on reaching work was, go straight to the cafeteria and then intently study the board where the breakfast, lunch and snack menu would have been written down every morning. We would argue over not only what we should eat but also what some of the other friends would eat.

I still remember every Friday would be Biryani for lunch and after having a plate each, me & J would share one more plate of that Biryani. Wednesday it would be fried mackerel or bangda. Now I didn’t like the smell of mackerel so I would order a veggie plate for myself but would insist K (another good friend from college) to take the fish. Then we would ask him for our share of his fish since a solely veggie dish would be really hard on us.

Once a month we had to travel all the way to Church Gate and then on to some place to go to the bank to get our salary cheques. Don’t ask me why we never changed our bank account to a place nearby, but we all loved that once a month trip. I remember we would wistfully look at the Taj from far and decide to come back for only tea there once we earned enough. We would then satisfy ourselves with alu bondas, vada-pav, singdana and maybe Frankies roll at the station after buying loads of those books sold at a very cheap price just outside ChurchGate.

I have never gone back to Mumbai since and I have never had so much carefree fun ever in life so heres for "Bambai, meri Jaan"...

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I have never really tried creating a authentic Marathi dish at home other than the Kolhapuri mutton which my Ma makes and which is awesome. Searching around I saw this recipe for a Dal at Mumbai Masala called Vatali Dal. I found it interesting as it used Bengal Gram which we Bengalis use to make Cholar dal and it also satisfied Nupur’s A-Z of Indian Vegetables – its V this week.

Since its Nupur who is hosting both RCI-Maharashtra and also A- Z, I thought she would not be offended if I sent her one Marathi dish that served both. RCI was a the brain child of Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine.

Here’s my Vatali Dal, pretty tasty and different from any Dal I ever had. My version was dry as I was not sure how it should look like. I followed the recipe from Mumbai Masala Magic to the tee. Any Mumbaiyaa comments on the look and feel of the Dal are welcome.


Vatali Dal

What You Need

Split Chana Dal /Bengal Gram ~ 2 cups
Garlic Cloves ~ 2-3 crushed cloves
Green Chilles ~ 2-3
Sugar ~ 1 tsp (optional)
Mustard Seeds ~ 2 tsp
Hing/Asafoetida ~ 1 tsp
Turmeric powder ~ 2 tsp
Oil ~ 1tbsp
Shredded Coconut ~ lots for garnish
Corriander leaves ~ lots for garnish

How I Did It

Wash and soak split chana dal in water for 3-4 hours
Drain and grind along with chillies to make a coarse paste, with very little water.
Heat Oil in a Kadhai/Frying pan
Add mustard seeds. When they start spluttering add asafoetida, turmeric powder and crushed garlic. Tip: Cover pan to prevent mustard seeds from dancing around your kitchen
Add the ground dal, salt and sugar
Stir till the water dries out. Keep stirring, keep a watch that it does not stick to the bottom
Cover and cook.
Garnish with grated coconut and chopped coriander leaves.

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My entry for RCI-Maharashtra

Trivia: Zunka Bhalar Kendras(Centres) were opened across Mumbai by the state government during the 90's to provide employment to youth and provide food at a very minimum rate to poor people. Zunka is a chickpea flour based gravy and bhakar is a roti. I don't think these stalls are functional anymore.


  1. I doubt if you will find the same mumbai again if you happen to go there again now...... I have been here since 3 1/2 yrs and go back every yr.... and every yr I go, I feel the mumbai where I was born, brought up and lived my whole life is changing very fast!!! So cherish all the memories you have since you will be in for a rude shock the next time you go there. :)

  2. Yes..I agree with coffee that Mumbai is more and more becoming ' less of the erstwhile mumbai' of which everyone is so a cit I feel it is degenerating faster than we are progressing !
    anyways, felt nice reading your nostalgic trip down memory lane :-)

  3. Hi Sandeepa, you paint a nice picture when you write -- could just see you there cajoling till your friend bought the fish, then cajoling some more till he gave you all some :) Vatali dal is completely new to me... sounds good! :)

  4. I was born in Bombay, however due to my dad's job lived all my life outside India. We would visit on vacations and the last time I was there I was 17 - by was that ages ago. But I still remember Bombay and like you I had the best of times there. Made a few cool friends and they took it upon themselves to show me a good time every time I visited. Sandeepa meri jaan, you brought back some cool memories.

  5. Mumbai....I can't bring myself to call it that, Bombay still slips out of my, have I been there? ONCE! that's it. well, twice, if you count that I was at the airport when flying to Canada from India. :(

    Loved reading your usual!
    Vatali Daal looks like pure comfort to me!

  6. Oh those carefree days! Borivali pictures make me long for home. Sandeepa, even here food talk is what gets me good friends and it makes people open up.

    Never tried making dal with Bengal Gram, this recipe is pretty new too, grinding the soaked dal and then cooking it.

  7. which part of borivali, sandeepa? LIC colony?

  8. Frankie rolls...!! something which I crave for every evening after work when we were in chennai, and there was a frankie roll guy in front of CJJ's it was two in my friend and have a frankie too :D you reminded me of those simple,easy, go lucky carefree happy days :)

    Hugs my dear :)


  9. Ahhh Sandeepa... if you replace Mumbai with Bangalore, that is pretty much the first two years of my career too...Our cafe food at work sucked though, just vegetarian ... no fried mackerel... Most of the paycheck was spent in clothes and food outside... ah the happy go lucky days.

  10. Lovely post... Clean crisp photos too

  11. Very nicely written,Sandeepa.Those days will never come back,that is for sure.I still remember my working days and even though the salary was not really good enough,the pure joy of independence and living all by yourself in a different place is really memorable.the dal looks beautiful.

  12. I enjoyed reading about your Mumbai days of early work :)

  13. Coffee & Santhi
    More than mumbai I have memories of my short and sweet stay and my friends there.I don't think I understood the city much anyway.
    But even when I go back to Kolkata, a lot seems to have changed now.


    Till now that person reminds me how we used to eat his fish :)
    The dal turned out to pretty different from dals I have had till now. Only I am not sure if its supposed to be this dry

    My stay in B'bay was pretty short maybe 7-8 months, we didn't really go around the "city" as much but its my life there that I remember more than Mumbai as a city

    You are right, I was actually thinking if I could write Bombay but was not sure.

    You should try the Bengali "Cholar Dal" too. Both that and this are very tasty. This seemed to be good as a meal in itself too

    I stayed at Kandivali, around thakur complex. Were you there monkeying too :) ?

    We are so used to eating such stuff in India. Here in the evenings sometimes I just long for some spicy samosa (not frozen ones) with my chai :( and that is hard to come by

    My next two years were at B'lore and you are right even my canteen didn't serve non-veg, though the veg options were pretty decent.
    I like B'lore more as a city actually but by then the novelty of working and being alone had worn off :)


    Yeah those days were sure fun.

    Thanks :)

  14. I stayed with a friend in Thakur Complex, Kandivili last year, and her apt overlooked a bit of the Sanjay Gandhi national park - so green for a concrete jungle like Mumbai. Always nice to look back on friends and single days!

  15. fantastic post....ohhh how I wish I could have spend more time in mumbai...I have only spend a week in my entire life and yet...I was captured by the city...great recipe...great post

  16. Thanks for a great entry, Sandeepa! The vatali dal looks perfect, it is supposed to a fairly dry prep just like this...often served just as a snack.
    I have fond memories of the quiet and leafy suburb of Borivali too, my aunt lived there for a few years when I was quite little.

  17. I can imagine the worry of parents when the kids are going to a new city. I've never spent time in Mumbai and want to do that at some point. Your dal looks delicious!

  18. I love to read your posts Sandeepa. They are always very well written. I had been to Mumbai only once and I dont remember anything about it. But I had great fun eating out in Belgaum and also in Bangalore. I miss those days. Here all we get is burger and some bland food (and the food network stars keep saying " smells so good..full of flavor"..they should be sent to India).

    I am going to try this dal. with coconut, this looks like my kind of dish :).

  19. come here and see how much the city has changed! we'l show u around! i remember coming here with my school friends in my post-grad days and sneaking into the Taj just to use the loo and then sneaking out thru a different exit gate so no one would catch us!!!

  20. lovely writeup sandeepa, all are missing the age old days!

  21. lovely blog u have for the vatali dal, my MIL also adds a small amt of soaked sabudana ( sago)to the dish n it tastes great too..try it the next time n let me how it was..


  22. Good post and a wonderful entry for V!!
    Talking about mumbai,..the place I wlways craved to visit and was lucky enough to be there recently.I was alarmed to see the slums and the modern houses all mingled and mixed..
    Actually for a conf,I had accompanied my husb and we all were given a gorgeous royal spread dinner @TAJ!!!!which I still cherish..:)

  23. Good old days!!:) I should try ur dal sometime. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Sandeepa, I need to pick your brain again. When Indian recipes call for green chili, are there specific ones that you should use or depends on heat tolerance? I use jalapeno or serrano in other cuisines that call for heat. Would an Indian cook use these, too? Thx.

  25. That struck quite a chord..the Mumbai and independence thing...It's a feeling many of my friends share too :)

  26. Nice trip down memory lane...those were the days eh!!! for the dal, I have very little knowledge about Marathi cuisine, so it looks just perfect to me...btw, hows little S...

  27. What a lovely post!!! You brought back my old memories..... That was exactly how it was for me too when I started my career in Bangalore. Miss those days :(

  28. Susan

    Some chiili facts :). Also posted acomment at your blog

    I use small green chillis for my kind of Indian cooking. I could find them only at the Indian Grocers though. They are pretty hot if you use them chopped. Be careful with your hands if you are chopping.

    However in some of my food like Dal etc. I sometimes add these green chillies whole, without chopping at the very end. This lends a flavor to the dish but the hotness is minimal which suits my daughter.

    Sometimes I use Dried Red Chillis for tempering. One or two of these do not add that much of heat(by my standard) but again lends a flavor. Be careful to wash your hands afterwards though.

    There is a slightly bigger green chilli also found at the Indian Grocers which does not have that much heat. I prefer the small green chilli though.

    My opinion -- cooking with these small green chillis gives me the flavor which I don't get if I am using jalapeno in my style of Indian cooking

    Hope this helps :)

    A pic of Indian Green Chillies
    Indian Green Chilli

  29. Sandeepa, you are an angel. Though my cupboard is continually growing with Indian spices (many of which I use in Mexican and Middle Eastern cooking), I was very puzzled about the chilies. Providing me with a photo helps SO much. Next time I am in an Indian grocer (about one a month), I will be sure to zero in on these. A hearty thanks for your generous advice!

  30. Your lovely writing made me so nostalgic about my college days and my friends and time in India. I am still considering returning to India because of memories like this. But I hear that India has changed a lot and I am a little scared to do so.
    This dish looks yummy!! I have to try this. Thanks so much for your tips regarding menu. I will get back to you soon.

  31. Hats off to you, Sandeepa! I would love to live and work in Bombay one day, even if it's for volunteer work, but I am so daunted by the prospect of looking for housing there! :) And you managed to find somewhere to stay! I love the sound of your dish and the bowl! :)

  32. very new and nice recipe. I think I am the last to comment. sorry on the delay. the pic tempts me to make some. simple to make isn't it?

  33. Lovely story. It brought back memories of when I did my first job in Delhi. We had a roof top cafe run by Bahadur the security guard!! Dal sounds and looks delicious...

  34. good one Sandeepa.. loved reading it. I have never been to mumbai...
    simple and nice recipe.

  35. Sandeepa, I can't believe you haven't returned to Mumbai yet! How long has it been? Your reminiscing was really sweet to read.

    Hope you make it back and have some more fun memories in Bombay!

    The daal has been duly bookmarked.

  36. Sandeepa, you refreshed my Bombay memories, suddenly I am feeling homesick :( With almost my life's 27 years spent in Bombay. I love bombay n crazy about it...When you were talking about the busy roads of churchgate with books all spread on the footpaths, I remember We used to hangout near fashion street or be it Zunka Bhakar Kendra or Mc Donalds opp to CST station...

    Oh Man, ..thanks for sharing thoughts about Mumbai and last but not the least an awesome recipe to feed the hungry bombaites....Nice post and thanks for stopping by, it really gives an extra cushion for new bloggers

  37. Recipe sounds good. Actually a small variation of this is used in South indian cusine - When frying the dal, add steamed beans/broccoli and it becomes what we call "usili" - but this is eaten like a side dish.

  38. Wow Sandeepa, Memories of Mumbai - your description is perfect - of the attitude, food et al. The dal recipe is interesting - and does remind one of the south indian 'usili' - I am going to try it out soon.The addition of grated coconut and coriander would give it a great look and taste.

  39. For many people it would be sufficient as a side dish?

  40. no garlic rest is fine.


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