Of all Mumbai's street snacks, the vada pav has grown to be the darling of the masses. A pillowy pav, stuffed with a golden-fried spiced batata (potato) vada, covered with a lick of tamarind and coriander chutneys and a sprinkling of garlicky masala - the vada pav is starch heaven, an instant energy booster. Delhi has its own inimitable chaat tradition and Kolkata and Delhi have both appropriated the pani puri into golgappas and puchkas. But the vada pav remains till date, a proud Mumbai tradition.
Legend has it, that it all started way back in 1971 with Ashok Vaidya's vada pav thela, stationed just outside Dadar station. He was the first one to envelope a crisp, hot vada with a chutney-slathered pav and serve it to a customer who was in a tearing hury. If we go even further back though, the vada pav becomes inflected with global roots - the pav's origins can be traced back to the Portuguese, the potato vada's to the Dutch enterprise in India. But of course, the fortuitous marriage between pav, vada and chutney is pure Mumbai tradition and has since been adopted as the snack of the Maharashtrian masses. In fact, the snack is now so popular that there is even a Vada Pav Day every 23rd of August.
Popular Vada Pav Stalls Across Mumbai
The 35-year old vada pav stall at Dadar's Kirti College, run by the genial Ashok Thakur, gets my vote for the best vada pav in the city. But don’t take my word for it. Thakur lists stars like Jackie Shroff and Madhuri Dixit amongst his clientele, and day or night, there's always a bevy of people hanging around outside the stall for a bite. But vada pav-philes (including celebrities, business tycoons and politicians) also swear by Aaram Vada Pav opposite Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
Vile Parle's Shivaji Vada Pav deserves special mention. Its Schezwan version is a huge hit for students of nearby Mithibai and NM colleges. Samrat and Anand Vada Pav stalls nearby have their own fan following too. Shree Krishna Sweets at Bandra East near Guru Nanak hospital is also a favourite of many. Dutta Snacks Center in Panvel is a popular stop for people enroute to Lonavala and the ghats. They even have a counter within Bharat Diamond Bourse Canteen in BKC. Shree Samarth near the Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar West has quite the fan following as well.
And almost every railway station has a vada pav thelawala, because it is perfectly portable food and great for people on the go (which basically sums up Mumbai’s fast life). Graduate Vada Pav outside Byculla Station is particularly popular. But much as I begged them, none of them were willing to part with even a wee bit of the recipe they used. However, if no vada pav wala is near and your cravings are high, here is a recipe you can use at home.
For the vada 1 1/2 cups boiled, peeled and mashed potatoes 2 green chillies A pinch of ginger 1 1/2 tbsp grated garlic 1 tsp mustard seeds 1/2 tsp asafoetida (hing) 6 - 8 curry leaves 1/2 tsp turmeric Salt to taste Oil, for frying
For the batter 100g besan (gram flour) Soda
Method: Grind the ginger and garlic in a mortar and pestle. Heat the mustard seeds until they pop, then add in the curry leaves and chillies for twenty seconds or so. Turn the heat off and mix the potato with the spices (except the turmeric). Shape them into little balls.
Mix the besan, turmeric and soda separately for the batter. Dip the potato balls into this mixture and then deep fry them until golden.
2 cups mint leaves 1 cup coriander leaves 1 sliced onion (optional) Juice of 1 lemon 1 tbsp sugar 4 green chillies Salt to taste
Method: Grind everything together with just a little water.
Everybody I spoke to agreed that the dry garlic sprinkle made the dish, but there was a general squabble when I asked how I could perfect the same. A consensus was reached with this recipe though (although a vendor I spoke to in Vile Parle said he didn't use coconut at all and only crushed the left over bits of the vada mixture in with chilli and garlic.)
10 peeled and chopped garlic cloves 35g grated dry coconut 1 tbsp chilli powder Salt to taste
Method: Fry the coconut and garlic cloves until golden. Cool. Then blend in a mixer with the remaining ingredients and slather on soft loaves of fresh, hot pav.
The Upscale Vada Pav
Mumbai does offer some hygienic options for the finicky vada pav lover. The closest version to that on the street are the hygienic Jumbo King and Parleshwar Vada Pav Samrat in Vile Parle. But there are a bunch of posh places across the city that offer souped-up versions and one of the most interesting variants I came across was Social's vada pav slider-style dish. Executive Chef Gaurav Gidwani, whose favourite vada pav wala is the one at Dadar, told me that Social serves their potato mix crispy with a crumb-fried batter, accompanied by a mayo-garlic chutney and elements of pickle, all served in a small pita bread. "It's one of the Social's top 15 dishes," he assured me. Here is the recipe.
Recipe: Social's Vada Pav Slider
For the vada 40g boiled, peeled, cubed potatoes 5g chopped garlic 3g chopped chillies 2g chopped coriander 1g mustard seeds 0.5g curry leaves 2g turmeric powder 30g breadcrumbs 10g maida 2 pita breads (4 inches) 20g garlic chutney 15g mayonnaise 10g pickle 100 ml oil 75g masala fries
Method: 1. Add oil into a pan, let it heat and then add curry leaves, garlic and mustard seeds till it crackles. 2. Add the potato mixture and mix well with all the spices. Let the mixture cool. Then use it to make 20g patties. 3. Mix the maida with water to make a batter. Dip the patty in batter and coat with the breadcrumbs. Deep fry the patty. 4. To make lehsuni mayo, mix the mayo and lehsuni chutney. Take the pita bread, apply pickle and lehsuni mayo on it, then stuff the deep-fried patty in the bread.
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