We have been covering some of the foods that are very typical of Mumbai. We last covered Vada Pav and the next item we are covering is Bhelpuri or Bhel. Bhelpuri is a puffed rice dish with potatoes and a tangy tamarind sauce. It is a type of chaat or small plates of savoury snacks, particularly identified with the beaches of Mumbai (Bombay), such as Chowpatty.
Bhel Recipes typically consists of 3 parts
These three groups of ingredients are mixed in a bowl as per the eater's preferences. Some prefer it more sweet while others prefer it spicy. Bhelpuri is best consumed as soon as it is made. If left for a while, the juices from the tomatoes, chutneys, etc. combine to render the sev and puffed rice soggy.
Another variation is to sprinkle the chat with chunks of diced sweet mango. The finished snack is often garnished with a combination of diced onions, coriander leaves and chopped green chilis. It is sometimes served with papri puris, a deep fried small round and crispy wheat bread. The result is a sour/pungent/sweet tasting evening snack that is a treat for the taste buds and a good source of carbohydrates and minerals.
There are many variants of Bhelpuri:
Much like the Vada Pav vendors, you will also find Bhel being served at small Bhel vendors spread around the city. However, you are likely to find the better Bhel stalls at the beaches. In other countries, you are likely to find Bhel on the menus of many Indian restaurants but if you are lucky to have a Little India in your city, you can almost be sure you will find Bhel there. Some of the local Indian Grocery stores also serve Bhel packets.
One of my favorite items growing up was the "Vada Pav". Vada Pav, sometimes spelled wada pav, is a popular vegetarian fast food dish native to the Indian state of Maharashtra. It consists of a batata vada (potato fritter) sandwiched between two slices of a pav (bread). Batata is potato in Marathi and Pav refers to bread (or bun).
Finely cut green chilies and ginger and a phodani (tempering) of mustard seeds and turmeric are added to a mash of boiled potatoes, and after dipping patties of the mash in an herb-seasoned batter of gram flour, the patties are deep-fried.
Vada Pav is typically sold on the street corners of Mumbai. Each vada pava vendor typically has a small cart with a large frying wok to make the vadas. The carts are similar to the hot-dog carts seen in New York. The Pav is typically sourced from local bakeries. Some of the vendors have bigger shops as well. The buyers normally eat their vada pavs near the cart (see image alongside). You typically find a lemonade or sugarcane juice stand near by.
Vada pav was supposedly devised by snack vendor Ashok Vaidya outside Dadar station in 1971.
Variations of the above basic dish include
- Cheese Vada Pav (where slices of cheese are added);
- Samosa Pav - where a "samosa" is used instead of a vada
- Jain Vada Pav - where vada ingredients do not include onions, garlic and potatoes
- Bhajji Pav - where onion fritters are used
Vada pav served in the nearby state of Gujarat is usually fried in Butter or edible Oil. The Pav is first fried in a mixture of Butter or Oil and dried red chilly powder. After that the chutney is applied in the hot fried Pav and the Vada is placed in between. This is the only difference between Vada pav in Gujarat and Maharashtra. In the state of Gujarat, the original unfried Vada Pav recipe is referred to as "Bombay Vada Pav".
There are thousands of Vada Pav stalls all over the city and everyone will tell you that their local Vada Pav stall is the best in the city. If you ever hit Mumbai, make sure you get one. I see a McVadaPao on the McDonald's menu in the near future. In the meantime, you can try and see if you can get Vada Pav at some of your local Indian restaurants.