The snack that was named after an explosive

My dad used to call it “Anugundu”.

The bonda he referred to had a crunchy golden brown exterior and a porous fluffy center that had a mild sweetness to it. 

With every piece you tore off, you can taste the oil in which it was fried, the crispiness of the outer shell with the portion of the soft and fluffy center sticking underneath its surface.

The dish had different textures that were produced with nothing but a ball of dough that was fried at lightning speed by a vada master who was always in a hurry to move on to his first batch of Medhu vada. 

For those who don’t know Tamil, “Anugundu” refers to Atom Bomb.

Dollops of batter, when dropped into a boiling pan of hot oil, created a bonda that looked like an irregular sphere with a pointy end.

Maybe that’s the reason my dad called it “Anugundu”. Because it resembled a cartoony version of the atom bomb. 

But, I’ve never heard anyone else refer to the snack by that name. They usually call it “sweet bonda”, which is a very generic name for such an amazing snack. 

I got introduced to Anugundu when I was a kid. My dad used to occasionally bring it home whenever he is back from his evening walk.

I thoroughly loved it! I love snacks with a subtle hint of sweetness. The thing about dishes that have a subtle sweetness to them is that as keep eating, you crave for more. Even after you run out of it,  you still feel wanting more.

Once I asked my dad why he liked the “Anugundu”, and he told me that it reminded him of his childhood.

He told me that when he grew up in Wellington, Ooty, his family was very poor. He grew up with three brothers and two sisters and he would have enough money for only one meal a day. And, he would spend that money on an Anugundu and a glass of tea in the morning, before going to the Industrial Training Institute to attend his diploma classes. He would sneak out during lunch, take a walk, and come back later and would tell the others that he had lunch. For him, the snack is a symbol of life. It is the magic snack that kept him going through his years as a student. It gave him the energy to push through the day, focus, and helped him become successful later in his life.

Hearing this from my dad made me love the snack even more. Because it was a piece of history from my dad’s childhood.

As I grew older, my connection with Anugundu grew stronger.

When I was in college, I used to go for early morning walks with my dad. We go to our favorite tea shop in Venkatapuram, and buy one anugundu each and order tea. Anugundu is always the first snack in the shop. We knew the entire snack schedule of the tea stall.

It was Anugundu at 5:30 AM, Medhu Vadai at 6:00 AM, Masala Vadai at 6:30 AM and Keerai vadai at 7:00 AM.

After getting our tea, we used to cross the road with the tea glass in one hand and Anugundu in the other. We used to sit in the stairs of an old oil depot and drink the tea. My dad smoked off a cigarette and enjoyed his tea mostly in silence.

My dad only ate the outer crunchy part and I often got to eat the fluffy part of his Anugundu as well. More reason to go with him!

I used to love those morning walks. Even though we didn’t speak much, I loved the morning routine and enjoyed welcoming the day looking at the morning skies that lit up from behind the tea stall building.

There was a point in life where I was crazy about Anugundu. When my college decided to take us on a trip to Ooty during my final year, the first thing I wanted to try was Anugundu! Because, I’ve heard my dad speak so much about how good they are in Ooty.

When we reached Ooty, I told my friend Lakshmanan that we’re trying the Anugundu the next morning. He cheerfully agreed as this guy is a sucker for trying out new food items.

The next day, we woke up at 5:30 AM, covered ourselves with winter clothes, and took a walk in the cold morning in search of a tea shop that served Anugundu. We found a shop a few meters from where we stayed and we got one each.

As I tore away a piece from the anugundu, it gave out a puff of smoke that blended with the morning mist. I popped it into my mouth and it burned my upper palate a little bit. But, as it settled I felt this amazing blend of smoothness and sweetness spreading in my mouth. I could also taste the oiliness which I felt added more depth to the flavor of Anugundu.

There are only very few food items where you can love the taste of the oil. One good example is the poori. The thing that adds a great depth of flavor to the poori is the flour, salt, and the deep flavor of the oil in which it was fried. Sometimes, I eat poori without a side dish just to taste that oily flavor. Anugundu excels in bringing that oiliness in a splendid way.

Anugundu was a comfort food until I hit my mid-twenties.

After I moved, I never came across an Anugundu that is as good as the one I used to have in Ambattur. Sometimes, I wonder if it is an Ambattur thing. The small neighborhood that is a haven for retired government employees served one of the best sweet bondas, ever.

Time has changed and Anugundu has become a memory rather than an experience.

It’s been five years since my dad breathed his last and four years since I moved away from Ambattur. But, the nostalgia of Anugundu and tea still makes me smile. Whenever I think about the snack or eat one, I always go back to my early twenties, sitting in the stairs of the old oil depot, sipping tea, and welcoming the morning skies with my dad.