Mistakes have got a lot of bad press, but, as I’ve learned over the course of a mistakes-filled life, they’re absolutely necessary if one is to learn and grow. I don’t want this blog to digress into self improvement territory, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, not least when it comes to food. I mean, there’s no way that dahi was invented deliberately. Someone left milk out and it curdled and lo and behold, we had one of the greatest foods in human history. Food history — or myth, if you like — is full of examples of serendipitous creation of new foods. Foods that emerge from mistakes are a sub-category of this and one of the best modern Indian examples, in my opinion, is Locho, the delicious street snack invented in Surat a few decades ago.
No one seems to be quite certain who invented this dish, although most Surtis are unanimous about how it came to be made. They say that a khaman vendor once added too much water to the batter, making it sticky and unable to hold a shape like khaman is supposed to. But instead of throwing away the mess, the canny man sprinkled it with masala, chopped onions and sev, drizzled some oil and served it with coriander chutney. Christened locho — which means “mistake” in Gujarati — the dish was an instant hit and became one of the icons of the city’s vibrant street food culture.
Fittingly, for a dish that emerged from a mistake, all kinds of variations emerged over the years — there’s butter locho, ghee locho, cheese locho, garlic locho, among the more reasonable versions. I sampled most of these at Jani Locho and Khaman House, the Mumbai outpost of the Surat original and became a huge fan. But there are also versions like “schezwan” locho, pizza locho and cheesy blast tandoori locho which would be considered outlandish, I suppose, but I try not to be judgemental (it’s hard).
To me, locho also embodies the ‘Anything Goes’ attitude that underpins street food cultures around the world, a firm rebuke to those who insist on authenticity in food. Of course, authenticity has its place — especially when it comes to recognising and celebrating food cultures that have typically been marginalised — but to insist on it at any cost is to take joy and creativity out of food and cooking.
1 cup – Chana dal
¼ cup – Hulled and split urad dal
1 tbsp – Besan
1 tbsp – Sour yogurt
2-3 – Green chillies
1 inch – Fresh ginger
1 tsp – Turmeric powder
1 tsp – Hing
½ tsp – Baking soda or Eno fruit salt
1 tsp – Peanut oil or any neutral flavoured oil
Salt, to taste
For locho masala
1 tsp – Roasted cumin powder
1/2 tsp – Black pepper powder
1 tsp – Rock salt
¼ tsp – Amchur powder
1 tsp – Red chilli powder
To serve (adjust quantities as required)
Other options for toppings: grated cheese, tamarind-date chutney, mustard oil, fresh pomegranate seeds
* Soak the two dals for a minimum of five hours and then grind them to a thick, smooth paste with besan, yogurt, chillies, ginger, turmeric powder and salt.
* Add water, bit by bit, and mix thoroughly to get a loose consistency. If the batter is thick, you’ll end up making khaman. Ideally, you should use one cup of water to loosen one cup of batter (I didn’t add enough water, so while I didn’t get khaman, my final dish wasn’t as soft and sticky as the best versions of this dish are. A “locho” in it’s own way, I suppose).
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* If you’re making the batter a day in advance, you can ferment it overnight. I highly recommend doing this, because it makes the locho easier to digest. But fermentation is not absolutely necessary, so you can work with fresh batter too.
* Add the oil, hing and baking soda, mix thoroughly and immediately pour into a greased steaming plate and place in the steamer. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
* While the locho is steaming, prepare the masala by mixing all the ingredients.
* Once the locho is cooked, scoopy it out of the steaming plate using a spoon (thankfully, one doesn’t have to worry about getting precisely-shaped pieces with this dish). Top with melted butter, ghee or peanut oil, sliced or chopped onions, a liberal sprinkling of the locho masala and serve with chutney on the side.
* Almost every version of locho that you’ll eat will be served with a lot of sev on top, which adds a lovely crunch to the dish. But I’m trying to eat healthy, so I substituted sev with roasted peanuts, which also worked really well.
* If it’s made without too much oil or butter, locho makes for a healthy and filling breakfast.
[The Back Burner is a biweekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]
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