A friend, just back from a visit to Amritsar, brought me a little souvenir. It was a bag of eight hard, brown, fist-sized spheres that I recognised as wadi, which my mother-in-law uses in her cooking. Wadi or wadiyan is a lentil and spice mix that is traditionally used to make aloo-wadiyan, a potato curry that counts as comfort food in many a Punjabi household.
Traditionally, wadiyan were made at home, though they are now easily available in shops around Punjab. It is an Amritsari speciality as popular as the city’s beautiful embroidered jootis and spicy papad. Explore the shops in the famous Papad Bazaar around the Golden Temple for a variety of wadiyan. They are usually sold in packets of 6-8 for under ₹100. Some are hard and have to be pressure-cooked with dal, others are soft and can be hand-crumbled into a dish while it is being cooked.
Interestingly, though wadiyan are now closely identified with Amritsar and Punjabi cuisine, they are a Marwari creation brought here by traders. Guru Hargobind, the sixth of the Sikh gurus, had invited the traders to Amritsar in the early 1600s to boost the local economy. Their wives started making wadiyan at home and they were quickly adopted by the local population. Traces of Amritsar’s Marwari links can be seen even today within the walled city, where a lot of homes are built in the Marwari architectural style.
Wadiyan are usually made using urad dal, which is soaked and ground into a paste that ferments overnight. It is blended with a mix of spices like red chilli, whole black pepper, coriander, salt, fennel, and asafoetida (hing). The mixture is shaped into balls and sundried, giving it a shelf life of 6-8 months.
My packet of wadiyan lay unused in a cupboard until I was faced with the prospect of perking up some bottle gourd. Lightly frying a wadi in oil I crumbled it into the vegetable, and let it simmer. The spices added a punch of flavour and the dried lentils gave the dish a nice crunch and bite. Wadi, I decided, was a good, no-frills addition to my pantry, and a great way to bring the aroma and flavours of Punjab to my table.
Appeared in the February 2014 issue as “Flavour Bombs”.
Updated in March 2016.
Neha Dara is a travel writer and editor. She is happiest trotting off the beaten path, trekking in the Himalayas, scuba diving in Andaman & Nicobar, or exploring local markets in small towns. She tweets as @nehadara.