Vada Pav is an emotion. My first taste of the iconic Mumbai street food snack was at my school – that ran from pre-K to the 10th grade – Jamnabai Narsee School. Mom would allow us to have a snack during our short recess, a couple times a week – and vada pav was the first choice always.
What is Vada Pav?
Vada means fried ball of some sort – in this case, boiled potatoes tempered with Indian spices like turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafoetida, and curry leaves. Lemon juice is a must for that slight tang, along with cilantro leaves.
Balls are made with the mashed tempered potato dough, and dipped into a gram flour batter that is simply 4 ingredients, and deep fried to golden goodness.
These balls are then slapped between a pillow-like soft pav or bread or roll, that is slathered with chutneys like Cilantro Mint, Tamarind Date and a Garlic Peanut chutney, along with some fried crunchies of the batter and a fried green chilli for an extra kick.
Close your eyes for that first bite into the vada pav – and feel the emotions rushing through your mind and body. You will not talk for the next couple of minutes or less, because this concoction simply melts in your mouth, and leaves you craving for more – THAT is a Vada Pav.
History of the Vada Pav
Excerpt taken from BCC: The dish is believed to have been invented in 1966 by a Mumbaikar, Ashok Vaidya, who opened the first vada pav stall opposite the Dadar train station, through which hundreds of thousands of workers – often in need of a quick, inexpensive snack – passed every day on their way to the textile mills in suburbs such as Parel and Worli.
Vada pav was an instant hit with Bombayites (as Mumbaikars were then known). Vaidya remains a Mumbai icon; one local journalist even made a documentary about him, called Vada Pav Inc.
After strikes throughout the 1970s and ‘80s eventually led to the textile mills’ closures, many former mill workers opened vada pav stalls of their own with the encouragement of Maharashtra state’s right-wing political party, Shiv Sena.
You can read the whole story here.
The Vada Pav is also called the Indian Burger. It is mind blowing to think that such a small snack has become historic and iconic – and to think even plant based non-Indians around the world have been making TikTok videos and reels about this recipe. Vada pav is vegan – not necessarily healthy, but hey who is counting calories here?
Ingredients of the Vada Pav
The ingredients of the batata vada (or fried potato balls) are as follows:
- Mashed and boiled potatoes : be sure to use the white potatoes for this recipe, which are best for making batata vada.
- Neutral Oil: Any kind of neutral oil such as vegetable oil, saffola oil, grapeseed oil is ok. The oil is used for tempering the spices
- Curry Leaves: Fresh curry leaves can be found at Indian stores and lend a fantastic taste to the vadas
- Mustard seeds and cumin seeds: These are essential spices added to the vada – or any tempering in Indian cooking.
- Turmeric : Ground turmeric is added for that iconic yellow color and flavor.
- Salt: I use table salt. If you are using kosher salt, be sure to add ½ teaspoon more.
- Lemon juice: adds a bit of tang to the potato filling.
- Cilantro: Any Indian dish has cilantro in it. It gives a lovely earthy flavor to the vadas.
Other ingredients to complete the Vada Pav are:
- Cilantro Mint Chutney and Date Tamarind Chutney : The chutney recipes can be found in my cookbook – Mumbai Modern or in a blog post here.
- Garlic Peanut Chutney : I have shared the recipe here. It gives that garlicky, spicy and nutty taste to the entire dish. I love using it with any meals actually! It is so versatile and I always have it in my fridge
- Vada Pav : Without the Batata Vada there is no Vada Pav :).
- Pav: Pav has its own story and deserves it’s own blog post. I will have to document this separately. Pav originated in Mumbai from the Portuguese – who brought the soft rolls to India, centuries ago.
- Chura: Or the fried besan (gram flour batter) crunchies that are fried in the end. They provide the added crunch to this vada pav.
- Fried green chillies: provide the necessary kick to the vada pav.
The times that I have made vada pav, my son has eaten the same lunch and dinner, until the vadas are over. It is a family favorite meal, and no other dinner is required if I have made vada pav!
This is THE Mumbai Street Food that is a MUST TRY. If you do try this recipe, please do not forget to tag #thejamlab on Instagram or leave a comment on this blog post.