One of the most popular South Indian snacks in Singapore is the vadai - light, crisp, savoury doughnut-like pastries. Vadai batter consisted of pulverised lentils/beans, flavoured with onions/shallots, green chilis, ginger, coriander leaves and curry leaves.
In Singapore, the most famous vadai purveyor used to be Gina’s Vadai first started by talented homecook-turned-businesswoman, Gina Rajan, in 1987, but which really hit the big time in 1994 when it was featured by KF Seetoh of Makansutra, Singapore’s best-known and most influential food personality. Overnight, Gina’s Vadai went from just “one of many” to become the No. 1 vadai seller in Singapore. Massive queues formed at their stall in Simpang Bedok.
I still remember the famous quote by US women’s soccer player, Mia Hamm: “It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.” Gina’s Vadai was an overnight success, and it expanded, sprouting branches - my go-to spot was in Siglap. At the time, Gina’s Vadai had the lightest, crispiest vadais in town, as business was so brisk, one always gets to buy fresh-off-the-fryer vadais. But Gina’s husband, James, the real driving force behind the business, died in 2009. As Gina’s Vadai slowed down, new competitors came to the fore.
One of them is Mr Vadai - the original stall is located at Haig Road’s food centre. But I was lunching with, who else but Makansutra’s KF Seetoh himself in Geylang when he gestured towards Mr Vadai’s branch at Yeh Yeh’s Cafe right across the street from where we were seated. “That shop”, KF quipped, “sells the best vadai in Singapore at the moment.”
That was enough to make me get up and cross the street and get some.
Mr Vadai offers a variety of toppings for their vadais. I opted for the most popular variety in Singapore: the prawn vadai.
Since vadais, like doughnuts, taste best when they are fresh off the deep-fryer, Mr Vadai only fries their vadais upon-order. I placed my order for 5, and was asked to wait about 5-7 minutes whilst the kitchen went about cooking them.
In Singapore, vadais are usually eaten together with fresh green chilis - you take a bite out of your vadai, and a bite of the green chili: best food pairing ever.
Personally, as I dug out my taste memory of the last time I had Gina’s Vadai, it did seem to taste much better than Mr Vadai’s, but that was a long time ago, and I trust KF Seetoh’s taste 100%.
Next time I’m back in Singapore, I’ll need to re-visit Gina’s Vadai - now reduced to one stall: at Dunman Food Centre - to see what their vadais taste like nowadays.
Yeh Yeh’s Cafe, #01-08 WIS @ Changi
44 Changi Road, Singapore 419703