V is for Vada Pav
Vada Pav is the quintessential street food of Mumbai, the city previously called Bombay. The name literally means ‘fritter’ and ‘bread’… it is exactly that, a potato fritter coated in batter and fried, placed in a piece of bread and served with dry garlic chutney.
The dish as it is, is not very old. In the 1960s, there was an effort to develop local businesses in the food industry and experimentation with new combinations resulted in vada pav, which was an instant hit.
Vadas of various types have been a part of the Indian cuisine for centuries. The pav was introduced to India by the Portuguese, initially in the territory of Goa which they started to rule in the 16th century. A bit of interesting history: the port of Bombay was given to the British as part of the dowry of the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II of England, in 1661.
The word pav comes from the Portuguese word ‘pão’ meaning bread.
Today vada pav is considered a symbol of Mumbai street food, though it is popular in many parts of India, especially in the state of Maharashtra where Mumbai is situated.
As can be expected of a dish so popular, there are many versions of the recipe, with minor differences. I have used onions in the recipe here but many versions do not include them. Similarly, sometimes several chutneys – green chutney, tamarind chutney, garlic chutney etc – are added to the dish. I have used only dry garlic chutney here. You can find recipes for more chutneys or buy them in Indian grocery stores, if you would like to try the dish with them.
The Vadas are fried in hot oil. You can use a deep fryer or fry them in a small pan of heated oil, taking extreme care with the hot oil to prevent fires or burning.
Pav is a bit softer and sweeter than regular bread and is available in most Indian grocery stores. If you can get them, use them, as they make a difference to the end product. If not, dinner roles can be used.
This is one of those dishes that taste better outside than indoors. And they travel well too. So try them on your next picnic!
V is for Vada Pav
For the batter
For the filling
- Dry roast the peanuts on low heat till they start getting brown spots. When they are cooled, remove the skins and set aside.
- Using a food processor or a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, coconut, peanuts, cayenne and enough salt to form a rough mixture.
- To make the batter, mix together all the ingredients, with enough water to bring it to the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a largish pan, over medium heat.
- Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil. They will splutter and tend to jump out of the pan. So be sure to use a splatter screen.
- When the mustard seeds have finished spluttering, add the asafetida, if using. Immediately, add the onions, green chilies, ginger, garlic, and curry leaves if using, to the pan. Stir and cook till the onions start getting brown.
- Meanwhile, roughly mash the potatoes. Don’t overwork the potatoes into a dough.
- When the onions are golden brown, add the mashed potatoes and enough salt to the pan. Mix well.
- Turn off the heat and add the chopped cilantro leaves and mix well. Set aside till cooled.
- When cooled, form into uniform sized ball shapes.
- Coat each ball of filling in the batter, and deep fry in hot oil till crisp.
- Slit each of the pav down the center and toast on a buttered pan for a minute.
- Place a few salad leaves, some garlic chutney and a vada, slightly flattened, in each pav. Serve with additional chutney on the side.