It Happens

Vada Pav: Zara Hatke

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While the classic recipe remains strong, experimental versions of the vada pav are gaining traction

The first bite reminds you of sambar. In the second, the sliced coconuts hit a home run. It is the usual potato stuffing, but with a distinct South Indian touch. By the time you finish, it’s hard to believe you just ate a vada pav.

The vada pav has come a long way over the last four decades. Today, it is as synonymous with the city of Mumbai as the sea. A typical vada pav consists of a potato patty dunked in gram flour, deep fried and served piping hot, nestled in a bun with some chutney. With time and a growing breed of entrepreneurs, a new pedigree of the snack has emerged over the years.

The South Indian vada pav in question is the brainchild of Nilesh Gupta, kitchen manager of a recently-shut shop in Ghatkopar. “Before I came up with such dishes,” he says, “I went on a tasting spree. Eventually, I realised that not a lot of innovation has gone into making a vada pav.” While he was in business, Gupta also sold a Jain vada pav made to suit that community’s dietary restrictions. Its patty was made of raw bananas, using a completely different palette of spices.

Though these flavours are quite unheard of, the concept isn’t. Chains like Jumbo King Vada Pav and Goli Vada Pav No.1 have been doing it for years. The vada pav sold at these chains range from the interesting to the bizarre, with Chinese, Punjabi and Western influences. There’s Goli Mix Veg Vada Pav with a patty made of green peas, carrots and beans and coated with crumbs. Corn Palak Jumbo King has a corn and spinach patty and is served with mayonnaise. The double decker Tandoori Paneer Jumbo King is served with Thousand Island sauce. The chains offer a mish-mash of other flavours, even a customised patty. But these innovations come at a price: as opposed to a roadside vendor who sells a conventional vada pav for no more than Rs 10, Jumbo King’s Tandoori Paneer vada pav costs Rs 80.

Thankfully, the experiments are unlikely to drive the classic into retirement. Says Dheeraj Gupta, founder of Jumbo King: “60 per cent of our business still comes from selling regular vada pav. High-end ones like the Tandoori Paneer barely account for 1 per cent.”