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The King of Bombay's street food

Archita Wagle  

I was very young when my dad decided that if I was to be a true blue Bambaiyya (this is back when Mumbai was still Bombay) I needed to have a cast iron stomach. Over my dear mother’s horrified protest, he introduced me to the king of Bombay’s street food, the wada pav. Needless to say, I became slave to king.

Over the years I have tasted a variety of wada pavs, some good and some so divine that having a bite is tasting manna from heaven (not that I have tasted manna, but I believe that wada pav can well qualify for that).

A wada — a fistful of cooked bhaji, coated with batter, deep fried — stuffed in a pav laced with tangy red and spicy green chutney. Sounds simple, but have one and you will realise that it is an experience by itself. Over the years I have developed my personal favourites, most around Dadar and Mahim, but if you are interested you can give them a try.

My eternal favourite is from a small stall opposite Karnataka Sangh near Matunga Road station. It is a small white stall made from discarded boards. The place opens only after 5pm and one is almost always guaranteed to be served piping hot wadas. But what sets this joint apart is the chutney.

There is a style to eating this wada pav. Take a small bite (or else you will be hopping around with a hot chunk of wada in your mouth), close your eyes and let the flavour explode on your tongue. The first to hit your taste buds is the sinful flavour of garlic in the chutney followed by spicy bits of chillies, then the crisp batter, a precursor to the divine chunks of potato bhaji. Wait a while to savour the taste before you go for the next bite.

My next favourite is again a small, but famous, shop near Kirti College (though I haven’t visited this one for a long time). Again follow the method mentioned above while taking the first bite. Your tongue will explode with the tangy spicy taste of the red chutney. The wada is bland, nothing great but the chutney more then makes up for it. Make sure you have a bib in place before eating. The chutney is put in generously and drips out.

Then there is the famous Chabildas wada — as big as a fist and famous around the city. But it is with great regret that I have to say that these wadas don’t have that distinctive flavour anymore, they have become sanitised. Sigh!

Speaking of sanitised wada pavs, let’s talk about the Jumbo wada pavs…

Or not. True, they have the requisite potato bhaji, crisp batter, and the bun (yes it is not pav but a bun, which takes away half the fun) but it is as if the soul has been sucked out, leaving a clean, sanitised robot in place of a living being. No fun.

Maybe there is something to be said about the surroundings in which a wada pav is made. Is there a possibility that the big vat with its huge quantity of days-old-oil and questionable hygiene lends its own unique flavour to the wada pav?

One last thought, if you truly want to see a true leveller of class divide, just watch a wada pav stand. You will find the suited office-goer and a beggar standing at the same stand and gobbling a wada pav. Too philosophical? Never mind, just have a wada pav and forget it.

(Photo Courtesy: Blogspot.com)

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