Ooty ‘varkey’ may be a local innovation
[Nilgiri Documentation Centre,Kotagiri]
The Ooty ‘varkey’ due for Geographical Indication, appears to have been an innovation of a local baker, quite likely from Kerala. There is no mention about ‘varkies’ in the British period. The Blue Mountain Bakery advertises as late as 1916 about so many items of breads, biscuits, cakes and pastries but no ‘varkies’. In any case, this humble, semi-sweet, coarse pastry would hardly have appealed to the English palate.
The ‘varkey’ may be an innovation which was necessitated during the World Wars when maida and other ingredients were in terribly short supply. World War II is more likely the period as that is when the local Badagas started replacing the departing English population in the towns. Since then the Badagas have been hooked to ‘varkies’ which has given an almost ritual status.
As for the name goes, it could simply refer to one Varkey who invented or innovated it as a Stanes’ alumni recalls, ‘The baker Varkey, from The Nilgiri Modern Bakery would come around 7 am… I always wondered if the snack, saada and Naii varkey was named after our baker! ‘
Varkey recipes today include varkey payasam and paratha varkey. However the ubiquitous varkey is eaten best deep dipped (ajjudhu, in Badaga) in tea or coffee.
[People who have tasted ‘barki’ – varkey is barki in Badaga, always get hooked to this Nilgiri special pastry. Whenever I go to Bengaluru, the only item my friends tell me to bring is this delicacy. Many prefer Kunna Barki – smaller variety of varkey. I recently read in the Hindu that ‘Ooty varkey is 100% vegetarian and no animal fat is added‘. But some disagree – Wg Cdr JP]