Fugia State: Celebrating Easter With An East Indian Treat
Image Credit: Via Instagram/@fugia.fam

EASTER EGGS, lamb (in a roast or as a slow-cooked stew), glazed hams, spiced Jamaican buns with cheese, sweetened breads and savoury pies, Simnel cakes and hot cross buns — the feast of Easter brings all these traditional foods to mind. In India, among the East Indian community, the Easter table also sees a specialty of the cuisine: fugias. 

The name — adapted from the Marathi word for balloons, ‘fuga’ — indicates what the dish itself is. These soft, spongy and airy deep-fried balls are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They can be faintly sweet, or savoury, and can be eaten as a snack by themselves (of course, with a cup of piping hot chai on the side) or with spicy curries like vindaloo and sorpotel (which are also never far from the Easter table).

The writer Tanishka D’Lyma notes in an essay published in The Goya Journal that fugias may trace their roots all the way to South America. She cites the popularity of fugias (or fugia-like dishes) in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil. Further, she notes that making bread with yeast was a practice that came to India via the Portuguese and Spanish. 

The making of this "balloon bread" (as D'Lyma observes) is quite a community affair, especially given the pride of place it occupies at East Indian celebrations. Weddings would be considered incomplete without a platter of fugias, as would church feasts and of course, festivals like Easter and Christmas. The women of the community gather together to make the dough, and pinch off the balls that will make it into the wok. A male family member usually helps by the large wok, ensuring the fugias are dropped into and removed from the hot, bubbling oil at just the right moment to attain that much-desired golden brown exterior.

Indeed, the right technique is something that is of great importance at every stage of the fugia-making process. For instance, D’Lyma writes that some cooks have taken to adding Eno in place of toddy or khamir (dry yeast). But true sticklers for tradition will only make use of khamir in their dough. When the dough is ready, it should be fluffy enough that it immediately springs back when pressed between one’s fingers. Masterful fugia makers will pull off a section of dough with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, then scoop it up and drop it into the hot oil with the other. 

When prepared for auspicious occasions like weddings, the batter for the fugias may even be blessed. The women may say their prayers by the communal vessel, mark the surface of the dough/batter with a cross and adorn it with marigold flowers. It makes for a sight as lovely as a platter piled high with fresh-out-of-the-wok fugias.