Fun with Customs: South Indian Gunpowder

Best served with bubbles and squeak

What kind of fuzzy, disheartening look would you receive from a customs official the next time you mention you’re carrying “gunpowder?”   Care to try and report back?  Make sure it’s US, Mexican (where you push a button to see if you get inspected) or Australian customs as opposed to the hogwash over in Hong Kong or Thailand.

Now wait a minute.  Gunpowder, at least in southern India (specifically the state of Andhra Pradesh), is also a spice mix, known in Tamil as kandi podi, or (Tur) lentil powder.  I first saw it at a hotel in Jaipur, India and was perplexed, angered, relieved, and upon tasting it pleased, in that order.  Then perplexed as to why I haven’t been able to find it since-one reason might be because 1, I tend to frequent North Indian restaurants, and B, calling it gunpowder, eh the staff may not get it/may hit the panic button.  There’s one place, in Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong, a Pakistani-run dive on the 2nd floor (or 1st, depending on where you hail from)…at the time, I didn’t know where the spice blend came from, so the owner would just respond “ya, ya, we have gunpowder, I go make for you.”  Take that however you’d like, but in the end, I was treated to a maroon-colored, slightly spicy/salty paste.  It was quite nice, but apparently nothing like the real McCoy.

The recipe can vary, according to Sailu’s Kitchen, in every Andhra family’s household, but the vital ingredients are kandi pappu, senaga pappu and asafoetida.  You mean you don’t understand?  Join the party.  Hint: those would translate to two types of lentils and oh ho ho, the devil’s dung.  (Link thanks to Saudi Aramco World)  Roast the lentils, sesame seeds and red chilies (in Tamil, milagai), then add the impossible Scrabble word mentioned above and salt to the mix once it has been coarsely ground.  Store in an opaque bag wrapped with ten red rubber bands, and mix with tomato juice on your next US-bound flight.
Are you familiar with “gunpowder?”  If you knew that devil’s dung tasted like a leek once cooked (now you do), how do you feel about kandi podi now?

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