Gina's Vadai ties up with Moosehead eatery

Mrs Gina Rajan's new creations for the collaboration include the Vadai Pizza.
Mrs Gina Rajan's new creations for the collaboration include the Vadai Pizza.ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

Over the past three decades, Mrs Gina Rajan has become known for vadai, or deep-fried lentil fritters.

Her family-run stall, Gina's Vadai, has gained a loyal following despite re-locating several times. It is now in Dunman Food Centre.

Success was not always a given for the 59-year-old, who started the business with her husband James. He died after a heart attack in 2009.

In 2002, they were at their wits' end. Business had plummeted after they moved to Bedok Market Place in Simpang Bedok from Geylang Bahru, where they had sold vadai for more than a decade.

She says: "It was a tough struggle to re-establish our business as we had lost most of our customers."

Their takings were about $60 a day. Besides dismal business, the couple also grappled with debts and had to take on second jobs to raise their three teenaged children.

Things would have worked out differently if help had not come when they least expected it to.

In 2002, The Straits Times ran a story about food businesses being revived by food shows on television and Gina's Vadai was featured in it as the stall had appeared in the Makansutra TV show in 2001.

The article pulled them out of the doldrums and turned their business around. Crowds flocked to the stall, with a queue of about 100 people daily.

Mrs Rajan has not looked back since. In March this year, she re-started the business after a four-year hiatus. The stall at 237 East Coast Road closed down in 2013 due to redevelopment works.

To mark her comeback, she will have her maiden cooking collaboration with Mediterranean restaurant Moosehead in Telok Ayer Street on July 28. The tie-up is part of the restaurant's Supper Series, which features tie-ups with hawkers.

For the upcoming supper session, Mrs Rajan will give creative twists to the humble vadai. She will stuff the fritters with feta cheese, which will give "a creamy texture with a sour tinge". This item is part of a $25 set that also comprises grilled vegetable vadai, prawn skewer, onion pakodas and a tangy romesco sauce.

Another new item is the Vadai Pizza ($25), studded with peanuts, prawns, ikan bilis and crab sticks. It is served with edamame and onion pakodas. Rounding up the menu are deep-fried banana balls with salted caramel foam and sauce ($7) and three Indian-inspired cocktails ($10 to $15 each), including Salt Lassi, which has curry leaf-infused gin, yogurt, cumin, honey and Himalayan salt. They are concocted by Mr Vijay Mudaliar, head bartender of Native bar in Amoy Street.

Mrs Rajan relishes the opportunity to push the boundaries of vadai-making. She says: "I have always wondered how a grilled vadai would taste like, with a smoky flavour and more moist texture."

Gina's Vadai sells nine variations of the snack, including cheddar cheese, tofu, crab stick and ikan bilis. She learnt to make the fritters from her late husband. They sold vadai in the streets for two years in the mid-1980s before setting up the stall in Geylang Bahru.

After her husband's death, Mrs Rajan soldiered on to run the shop with her three sons, aged 28 to 35.

Up next, Gina's Vadai is looking to start a franchise and retail its frozen vadai, sambal paste and chilli sauce.

She says: "My husband loved vadai a lot and I want to preserve the legacy of what he has started and grow the business."

• The Supper Series with Gina's Vadai and Native is at Moosehead Kitchen-Bar, 110 Telok Ayer Street, on July 28 from 10pm till late.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Gina's Vadai ties up with Moosehead eatery'. Print Edition | Subscribe