The king of (street) foods

February 14th, 20108:37 pm @


Vada Pav

Carb-on-carb badness - the vada pav (with the lesser bhel puri in the background).

The western state of Maharashtra is, it must be said, not well known for its contributions to world cuisine. Austere, plain, simple are some of the more polite adjectives attached to food from the state. Plain, boring, dull are some of the less polite.

For me, however, all is forgiven as the good people of the state’s capital city Bombay saw fit to gift the world the vada pav, or wada pav, or vada pao – it doesn’t really matter how you spell it, all that really matters that it’s a sinful indulgence of deep fried joy that would make any cardiologist gag in terror.

According to legend, it was devised outside Dadar railway station in the early 1970s by a chap called Ashok Vaidya. When we lived in Bombay we passed Dadar station on many occasions and while I can’t say for certain, I’m pretty sure there is no statue to the great man or any other form of recognition of his contribution to world cuisine. Not even a blue plaque above where he first devised his carb-on-carb delicacy of deep-fried spicy potatoes wrapped in a fried bun served with a smearing of tamarind, garlic and coconut.

It’s what might be called a “sometimes food”.

It’s such a staple snack food in Bombay that you can now buy them from fast food chains modelled along the lines of McDonald’s (they also home deliver). Unfortunately – or fortunately, from the point of view of my arteries – it doesn’t really make its way out of Bombay much.

So when my wife dragged me along to a craft fair in Delhi recently the only thing that really got me into a rickshaw and slogging out to see more wicker chairs than a man needs to in one lifetime was the promise that vada pav was available.

She wasn’t lying. Of all the food stalls at the fair, the one doing the busiest trade was the one selling Bombay street food. Say what you like about Maharashtran food, but they know their street snacks.

vada pav

Frying the bread - because deep frying the potato isn't enough.

Luckily, the deep frying of the potato takes place out the back, but still, it’s probably best not to watch as they fry the bread on a large pan in front of you.

My taste buds were tingling as I waited for my carbohydrate-laden dose of fat. I felt like someone who yells “hurry up” at the microwave as I impatiently waited for the guy you call out my order.

It was all worth it. The crispy outside of the bread giving just enough substance to the bun before I broke into the warm, spicy potato inside; the paste providing just enough moisture to stop it sucking all the saliva from my mouth.

While the small serve doesn’t appear to be much, looks can definitely be deceiving – there’s a hell of a lot of calories packed into that small vada pav.

The fair ends soon and the vada pav will return to its homeland. I can already feel the relief in my arteries.

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