Maru na Bhajiya (Spiced Potatoes with my version of Secret Chutney)

(In case you’re wondering, I completely hashed up the earlier post on Maru na Bhajiya. Mobile upload rookie! Here it is in its entirety…)

Every city has its eating dives, where ambiance is a “huh?”, the grime on tables fingernail thick, the chairs stick to the back of bare legs, and a roach crawls across the wall just as you take your first bite.

But that first bite…ah! It upends every expectation and transforms a nightmare into sublime culinary delight.

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Maru na bhajiya in Nairobi was such a dive. In the stinking bowels of River Road, where the Coast Bus from Mombasa disgorged passengers with their baskets of squawking chickens and day old fish, an unassuming Gujarati Indian bloke by the name of Ashok Maru set up a drive-in restaurant with a few basic ingredients: potatoes, chickpea flour, green chillies, coriander, ginger, and lashings of lime juice and a vat of vegetable oil. Yes, deep fried – entirely worth it – and dunked in a delectable gazpacho-like chutney. Veritable heaven.

So successful was Ashok that both the bhajiya batter and chutney recipes were closely guarded secrets. His African kitchen helpers were reputed to turn down thousands of shillings in bribes in order to stay loyal to Ashok. The results were manifested in the number of cars clogging the area around his tiny eatery (I never went inside) and waiters crisscrossing the road bearing platters of Maru na Bhajiya and chutney to salivating patrons. My most nostalgic Nairobi memories include eating bhajiya in the dark, and slurping the chutney off the plate afterwards.

Hard to replicate but here’s a recreation of Maru na Bhajiya – delectable slices of potato heaven enveloped in a spiced chickpea batter served with tamarind chutney together with the closely guarded secret gazpacho-like chutney

5 Yukon or Idaho potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick, blanched in salted water. Drain and set aside.

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Heat oil on medium in a deep vat, or deep fryer.

Add: 1/2 cup chickpea flour, 1 cup ground chillies, coriander and ginger, lime juice, and salt to taste. A sprinkle of turmeric and garam masala will elevate the taste.

Mix it all together. Use hands if you like. In fact, use hands, period.

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When the oil is just below smoking point, or a drop of batter sizzles to the top, the oil is ready. Fry the potato slices in batches until golden crisp. Drain well.

(I chickened out at the last minute and baked instead in a single layer with a brush of vegetable oil for 40 mins at 375C, turning halfway. The results were pretty good, although my husband felt cheated)

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While the potatoes are frying or baking, throw into a food processor 1/4 cuke, 1 tomato, 1 carrot, handful coriander, 5 chillies, squeeze of lime juice, and a good pinch of salt. Whizz until thick gazpacho like.

20120609-152119.jpgTake a pasta dish. Heap on the bhajiya. Smother in chutney. Take first bite. Imagine you’re back amid gasoline fumes and crazed waiters outside Ashok’s iconic Nairobi dive.

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About Shila Desai

Conceptualiser of Unpackaged Travels (www.eyhotours.com). Writer. Culinary diva when someone else does the dishes.
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