As much as I am a health nut, I can never resist the allure of fried goods. My grubby fingers will greedily snatch at every crispy morsel and then, regrettably or not, bask in that post-fried food glow. For this Food Showdown, I thought we’ll explore another rare snack that should be talked about more: vadai.
Just like my Fuzhou oyster cake showdown, the humble vadai is a lesser-known snack in our hawker sphere. But, after reading this, these fluffy golden discs should be in your repertoire.
Made from fermented lentils that have been pounded into a paste and then deep-fried, this South Indian snack usually comes plain or with a prawn on top of it. The prawn is usually served whole and fried so well you eat it, head and all.
The fun doesn’t stop there; vadai is generally enjoyed with a raw green chilli, that interestingly enough is a practice that has evolved from the Chinese community. While many Indian restaurants also serve this moreish fritter, I decided to keep this showdown between hawker stalls just for fairness and only comparing their prawn vadai.
The contenders for this showdown are Gina’s Vadai, The Original Vadai and Mr Vadai which are all also closely located within each other so you can have a vadai showdown of your own if you like.
Like always, we begin with an institution like Gina’s Vadai, which always serves as a good benchmark. Touted as Singapore’s most famous vadai, Gina’s Vadai has a history that dates back to 1985, so she’s been frying these golden discs for a while now. Plus, Gina’s Vadai is also credited with coming with exciting flavours for vadai such as the Cheese Vadai (S$2) and Tofu Vadai (S$1).
Located in Dunman Food Centre, I bagged my Prawn Vadai (S$1) and just took a moment to marvel at the price. After all, there are very few things that are just S$1.
Gina’s Prawn Vadai was thin, crispy golden round with several small grey prawns swimming into the vadai. The batter was fluffy and light, though not as flavourful as I would like it in. There was a hint of the usual spices that go into the vadai batter, but they were not apparent here.
The bits of green chilli do enhance the vadai, but I would have liked it to have been a little punchier. Still, Gina’s Vadai is pretty tasty, and its history and many accomplishments are a testament to that.
The Original Vadai
The origin story of The Original Vadai begins at the place where you can find many delicious and indulgent wares that might not be all that friendly to your waistline: pasar malams.
Run by a mother-son duo, The Original Vadai has been a hit at night markets before they decided to settle down at Haig Road Food Centre before running into issues with co-tenancy.
Then, The Original Vadai shifted to Golden Mile Food Centre. Still, when news that the hawker centre is going to undergo renovations hit the streets, our favourite dough fritters have once again disappeared from our hands.
All hope is not lost, The Original Vadai has found a new spot for their second outlet in Joo Chiat which just opened on 11 December 2020, so I was extra lucky when I went down.
A little larger than Gina’s Vadai, The Original Vadai’s Prawn Vadai (S$1) is more substantial with a tender and more flavourful batter. You can even spot the fennel seeds scattered throughout the dough.
Inevitably, eating these savoury rounds will leave you with greasy fingers but you’ll overlook this little inconvenience when you realise how heavenly these fritters are. Perfectly golden on the outside with a pillowy centre, this 30-year-old recipe was a winner. Moreover, The Original Vadai uses larger prawns, so you have one fat curled-up crustacean on your fritter.
A few nibbles of that spicy green chilli is all you need for the best kind of afternoon delight.
It’s a family affair when it comes to vadai. As it turns out, the owners of Mr Vadai are relatives of The Original Vadai. Mr Vadai has also shot to fame with their popularity at night markets, so I was pretty eager to have a taste of fluffy spheres.
The Prawn Vadai at Mr Vadai is a little more expensive at S$1.20 a piece, but they are freshly made, so it’s entirely worth it. There is nothing better than a bag of piping hot vadai to end off your day or even better, to start it.
These doughnuts, because they were the size of doughnuts, had an airy and marshmallowy texture compared to the first two. There were bits of curry leaves in the batter that added a tantalising fragrance while the prawn was crispy to a fault.
This final decision was a close one, which usually doesn’t happen as the winner is usually a cut above the rest. So, this is splitting hairs, but we have to pick a winner.
My vote will have to go to The Original Vadai; their batter was by far the tastiest and the most nuanced. While Mr Vadai’s cloud-like texture and made-to-order freshness was a very close second, The Original Vadai just edged them out with how flavourful, and lip-smackingly good their batter was.
In an almost annoying Mean Girls way, I would like to break that prom queen crown and hand it out to all three stalls because if you choose either one, you won’t be disappointed. So, give them a try and let us know which one you prefer.
If you’ll now excuse me, I’m just headed to spin class to burn all these vadais off.