Forged from the coming together of two distinct cuisines, Crispy Potato Bhajias have earned their place as a treasured dish on the South Asian-East African dinner table.
For me, “fusion” is not a dirty word when it comes to food. Often characterised as a slap-dash stab at innovation, the concept of “fusion” is all too frequently misunderstood in today’s food narrative. As a British child of Kenyan and Tanzanian immigrants, both with Indian Gujarati ancestry, the concept of “fusion food” was deep-rooted in the meals I grew up with. Over years, a mishmash of culinary principles became a cherished by-product of the complex history of South Asian settlers in East Africa. This seemingly organic partnership is testament to the notion that food and food culture is permeable, shape-shifting and travels with us, regardless of man-made geographical borders.
A pinch of Indian masala added to African staples like cassava, matoke, beans and maize is the comfort food my grandfather taught my father to cook. While my Gujarati ancestors would have historically, never had access to many of the core ingredients we use today, these treasured dishes evolved with us and have ultimately carved a place in our cooking arsenal.
What we eat is as culturally diverse as we are.
Here’s my dad’s recipe for Crispy Potato Bhajia. They’re famous in our family.
In short, bhajias are vegetables coated in a batter of gram flour and spices before being fried until crispy. They can be made with almost any vegetable. But potatoes are so lovely, aren’t they? I’ve eaten hundreds in my time and I have to say, nothing outshines potato bhajias done well. They need to be super crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle, light and absolutely not greasy.
That really depends on your taste. The batter is a blank canvas. You can assume that most recipes include: chilli, ajwain, garlic and turmeric. Restaurants and street vendors all have their own unique recipes and will probably never share their secrets with anyone. Don’t worry though, I pestered my dad long enough to get him to show me how he makes his famous bhajia. No need to thank me.
IMPORTANT! Use dried garlic powder in your bhajia. Once fried, dried garlic powder gives your bhajias incredible depth of flavour that fresh garlic cannot match.
As thin as you can get them, without them being see-through! We’re not looking for paper thin slices here. 4-5mm is ideal. Use a sharp knife and slice them by hand, or use a mandoline to make light work of it. Once sliced, dunk your potato slices in a bowl of ice water to keep them from turning brown (and to remove excess starch).
Fry them immediately before serving. They don’t wait around for anyone. Potato bhajias need to be eaten hot. The magic is in the crispy batter and steamy potato middle. If you want to prep some of the recipe, make the batter a day ahead and keep it refrigerated. You can also slice the potatoes a couple of hours ahead of time — just be sure to keep them in a bowl of ice water.
My dad’s recipe isn’t gluten free but you can switch the plain flour in his recipe for any gluten-free flour blend and ensure your baking powder is a GF one. I’ve done this with great results!
Absolutely! Experiment away. If potatoes aren’t your jam, try dipping any of the following in this batter to create the bhajias you love:
With chai, always with chai. Proper kadak masala chai (strong, sweet tea with milk and lots of cardamom is my favourite). They’re always popular when the weather is bad and all you want to do is cosy up indoors with a plate of belly-warming comfort food.
Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I’ve included my dad’s signature hot and sour cucumber chutney (served cold) in the recipe below. It’s fresh, zingy and an utterly delicious contrast to the steaming hot bhajia.
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