Picnic Time with Ulundhu Vadai

Ulundhu Vadai

I do enjoy living in a temperate environment with four distinct seasons. Each season has something unique and interesting to offer. Spring is fresh and exciting with renewal and rebirth. Long carefree summer days with a myriad of outdoor activities are just the things to look forward to. When we tire of those activities, the season changes and we can enjoy the beautiful fall colors and comfort foods. Finally, in the winter we get to spend some time to work on our indoor hobbies but one is not totally home-bound. There is still much that can be done outdoors like skiing, snow shoeing, and ice skating.

Summer is just round the corner and a good way to enjoy the great outdoors with the family is to go cycling and have a picnic. When the boys were little, we would attach a tandem to Ro-Ri San’s bike and a buggy to mine. The buggy had enough room for the boys as well as the picnic basket. The tandem was for the kid who would like to paddle along with daddy. It was not only fun but also a good workout for the adults. The boys had plenty of snacks from the picnic basket.

Picnic basket

Way back when I was kid, our picnic was very different. We did not have a fancy picnic basket like this one. Mom would pack up everything in plastic containers and all kinds of plastic bags. These were loaded into the boot. No, not the shoe but the trunk of the car. I have no idea why the trunk is called the boot. Please ask the British. In case you are wondering, the other end is known as the bonnet.

I remember the trips to the zoo in that hot humid weather getting stung by mosquitoes. I guess my brothers and I needed a proper education on wild animals. We did the same with our boys. Our favorite was of course the white sandy beaches of Port Dickson. In the old days before the big hotels, Dad could drive right up to the beach with the boot facing the ocean and we would have our picnic by the car (aka tail-gating party in American speak). It was most convenient. We even had music from the cartridge player. Remember those? Ancient! They preceded cassettes and were called eight-tracks in America. Some of the picnic goodies we had were similar to the ones shown below. Just click on the picture to get to the post.

Vegetable SamosasHoney Chicken BunsGinger Soy Chicken Wings

Pisang Goreng (Banana Fritters)Sweet Corn PuddingOndeh-Ondeh

World on a Plate

Why all this talk about picnic when it is still chilly outside? This month’s theme for World on a Plate is PICNIC and we have decided to prepare foods that are portable and can be eaten without utensils. This time I am sharing a dish from the Indian community in Malaysia. Medhu vadai or Ulundhu vadai are very popular and can be found at most Indian eateries together with roti canai, murtabak, dosai, puri, chappati, and idli. These doughnut-like lentil snacks are softer and more dough-like than their crunchy cousin known simply as vadai. They are usually eaten with coconut chutney and can be quite filling. These portable delights are perfect for picnics as they are delicious eaten warm or at room temperature.

Ulundhu Vadai

This ulundhu vadai is made with urad dal also known as black gram or ulundhu in Tamil. Urad dal has a black skin but a creamy white flesh. It should be soaked for several hours before being ground into a paste.

Urad dal

Although ground dal has a very sticky texture, it is really easy to work with. It just binds together during cooking, leaving the oil clean and free of crumbs.

Oil after deep frying vadai

Ulundhu Vadai
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
  • 1 cup (200g) urad dal
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
  • Β½-inch knob ginger, minced
  • 1 sprig curry leaves, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Canola oil for deep frying
  1. Wash and soak urad dal for at least 2 hours. Drain and place in a food processor. Process until dal becomes a fine paste adding just a tablespoon of water if necessary. Remove and place dal paste into a large bowl.
  2. Add jalapeno pepper, ginger, curry leaves, cumin, and salt. Mix well with a spatula until well combined.
  3. Heat oil in a deep pan. Wet your hands. Place a rounded tablespoon of dal mixture on your palm. Shape into a disk about 3 inches (7.5cm) in diameter. Make a hole in the center with your finger.
  4. Gently slide into hot oil and fry turning once, until golden brown. This should take about 3 minutes. Depending on the size of your pan, you may have to fry in 2 or 3 batches. Remove and drain in paper towels. Repeat until all dal mixture is used up.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature on its own or with coconut chutney.

You can still enjoy tea when on a picnic. Just bring a flask of hot water and a few teabags.

Goodies in the picnic basket

Now, make yourself a cup of chai and grab an ulundhu vadai. Have a bite!

Have a bite!

Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 😎


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  1. says

    Gorgeous looking picnic basket. Clever choice, Biren. All finger food. I LOVE vadai in any form. From the ingredients you have there, I know they’re scrumptious πŸ˜›

    • Biren says

      I had to go through my archives to pick out all those finger foods. I did make those sweet corn pudding for this purpose though. :)

      Yes, vadais in any form are delicious. I love them too.

  2. says

    Biren, what a lovely post. I loved your snapshots of the picnic basket. It reminds me of the similar wicker basked, my parents had. Talking about ‘boot': in India we happily used the word ‘dickie’ for the trunk. :-)
    I love the square container too!

    • Biren says

      Hi Shri! Thanks for visiting. “Dickie” for the trunk? There must be all kinds of names for it in different parts of the world. :)

    • Biren says

      Thanks Rebecca! The smaller container is a lock n lock container purchased at Walmart (if I am not mistaken) some time back while the big one with colorful inserts were purchased on-line from Ichiban Kan in San Francisco. Unfortunately, they no longer do on-line sales.

  3. says

    I just love your posts Biren! It always brings memories of childhood, family and good food! I see some lock & lock in your picnic basket! (a favorite of mine) When my husband was out of town for a week, a friend of our drove my daughter to school (it was on his way to work) so I made him a lunch every day, to thank him. I would make him a sandwich and pack the lock & lock with fruit, veggies and snacks. He loved it! I found this Indian snack with noodles, peanuts and peas, that was his crunchy snack. Anyway I have a bag of urad dal, now I know what to do with it!

    • Biren says

      Thanks Lyndsey! I am glad to hear you enjoy my posts. Those are fond childhood memories and it is fun to walk down memory lane. :)

      Yes, I like those lock n lock too but unfortunately I have not seen them since I bought these. Glad that I have two of them. So nice of you to pack lunch for your friend. He must be missing them now. I know those crunchy snacks. They are most likely murukku. Maybe I’ll make them one day and share them here. They are really tasty snacks.

  4. says

    Oh yes – I remember the 8-tracks and their predecessors – the LPs and 45’s. I kind of miss the “devices”. Downloading music is like books loosing out to the e-books. What a great picnic basket! How fun! This hop looks fun too. I don’t do a lot of picnics but I love finger food and your ulundhu vadai sounds and looks delicious! I would never have guessed they were made with dal. What a healthy tasty finger food!

    • Biren says

      I guess we are showing our age here but they were new and exciting then. :) I wish I would have kept one or two to show my boys.

      These vadais are really tasty and not too difficult to make. Do give them a try.

  5. Jeannie says

    Wow! your picnic basket is so complete! Would you believe me if I say i have not been to a picnic before in Malaysia? It’s too hot!

    • Biren says

      Aww Jeannie, you are missing out! You have to give it a try, at least once. Go with some friends. With good company and good food you will not even feel the heat. Bring lots of air syrup and agar-agar. :)

    • Biren says

      Thanks Ah Tze! I like to include those colorful fruits and veges. We get a lot more choices in the summer.

  6. says

    wow, your homemade vadai look exactly like those store-bought, look really nice and must be yummy too.You remind me i have so long did not plan a picnic with my kids..like how you loaded all healthy foods in your beautiful picnic basket,,

  7. says

    Wow, I’m impressed! U can even make Indian treats :) Just back from shopping trip in Korea. Thks for visiting during my absence! Lots of blog hopping to catch up :) Have a good week ahead!

    • Biren says

      I love some of those Indian treats and ate lots of it back in Malaysia. Hope your shopping was successful in Korea.

  8. says

    These look just like the vadai I used to eat so often before, with whole green chillies, though coconut chutney is also good. These days, you have to go out looking for them as there are not as many vadai sellers as before. Your picnic basket is gorgeous! So long since I’ve been on a picnic, and I’m an islander!! πŸ˜€ Your picnic memories are making me wistful too….

    • Biren says

      I am surprised to hear that vadais are hard to come by in Singapore these days. What happened to the Indian stalls? Did they move? I had dosai in a food court during my last trip. It wasn’t the best but I badly wanted to eat paper dosai before leaving the region.

      Hard to think of going for a picnic when you are living downtown in a metro area. It is good to get away though and have some fun in the sun. Maybe too much sun, huh? πŸ˜‰

      • says

        Not impossible to find, just not as commonplace as they used to be. For instance, where I live, there were two mamak stalls, and one closed down late last year. Neither sold/sell vadai :( I usually go to Serangoon road for a vadai fix now. You may be able to find them in Indian food stalls in the food courts around Orchard but elswhere, they are not as common as say prata, mee goreng or biryani. Once in a long while, you may stumble on an itinerant seller with a box of piping hot, fresh vadai on his bike, in some unexpected spot, if you’re lucky. It’s no surprise then that these days, the younger set know less and less of our traditional foods and gravitate to burgers, sushi, pizza etc, as these more recent imports are EVEYWHERE!

  9. says

    What an amazing soulfull post Biren! I love these memories, I have plenty of those my self. your picnick basket is so beautiful and i love those little vadais..!
    Hugs my friend!

  10. says

    Love your picnic basket! And I remember trips to the zoo with my siblings – although I think we were the wild animals! Anyway, nice recipe – and sounds delicious. I’ve eaten something similar in restaurants, but never made it – and it’s so easy! And I have some urad dal on hand, too. Good post – thanks.

    • Biren says

      Haha! Maybe we were too! πŸ˜€ Yes, these are easier to make than they look. I think you will not be disappointed.

  11. says

    I would love to dive into that picnic basket!! Vadai is one of my favorite snack foods. I ate them constantly when I was pregnant with my son. Your vadai looks so tempting and I wish I could have one right now… do you ship? :)

    • Biren says

      I can understand why you crave vadais when you were pregnant. These are so addictive and it is hard to stop at just one. I think I need to more more soon.

    • Biren says

      They may require a little patience but are quite easy to make. The are also very tasty. Do give it a try.

  12. says

    What a lovely spread for picnic….I love your basket…vadia is a favourite snack of mine, never thought of it as picnic food, but since it tastes delicious both hot and cold, it will make a great picnic food :-)

    • Biren says

      Hi Suchi! Thanks for visiting. I like vadai too. They are great on picnics as they are so portable and can be eaten at room temperature. Good to have you in World on a Plate. :)

    • Biren says

      Yes, they do look like bagels but made with lentils instead of flour. After frying they do become a little soft and dough-like.

  13. says

    Hi Biren! I’ve never heard or had Ulundhu vadai before. It seems like very easy to deep fry and it looks delicious. I’m jealous of your picnic set. I only have it in my dream (haha). The picnic set must come in handy in this season! I’m too lazy to pack lunch and picnic, but it should change after I start making lunch…should be easy right? πŸ˜‰

    • Biren says

      You can get a picnic basket too. Now is the perfect time to go look for one. :) You should try going on a picnic as the weather is so nice in SF. You make get hooked. πŸ˜‰

  14. says

    Gorgeous picnic basket! You did such a nice job to pack all those yummy food beautifully organized. I’ve never heard of ulundhu vadai, but this is why our blogging cultural exchange is such a good thing. We are learning a lot about other cultures! Great job, Biren!

    • Biren says

      Aww…thanks Hyosun! I am glad to hear that you learned something new here today. Yes, the blogging cultural exchange is indeed a good thing. :)

  15. says

    What a healthy picnic you pack! And deliciously exotic, as usual. I really enjoyed the bit about the boot and bonnet – after 11 years in the UK, I now say boot but not bonnet. Weird. I’m sure I’ll come around eventually. As they say, when you can’t beat them join them! πŸ˜‰

    • Biren says

      I use many of the English terms out of habit. Sometimes my boys wonder what I am saying. I do try to use the American terms more now and like you I’ll eventually come round to it. πŸ˜‰

  16. says

    What a fun picnic basket! You’ve done a fabulous job with the vadai, Biren! I saw it on FB and commented on it then, but I have been on a forced blog break for a while, and am doing my catching up now :) Great recipe!


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