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Vada Pav – Here comes the Hot Fritter by Aryaa Naik
Spicy potato fritters, fried potato dumplings, spicy potato cutlet, potato patty, a yummy potato spicy ball wrapped in chickpea flour batter. Call it what you may. This reigning king of snacks of the western belt of India is not just a snack but a culture.
The vada itself can be an explosion of spice, but there is something to calm the palate – the pav (bun). The vada and the pav meet in perfect harmony in the Indian version of a burger, replace the ketchup and mustard with mint or tamarind and dry garlic chutney and voila! You have the perfect answer to a hunger pang – the Bombay Burger, aka Vada Pav.
One bite produces the entire range of flavors found in an Indian buffet. It is a marriage of different layers of tastes, spicy, tangy, and sweet; and this is the one dish you can relish as breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner.
Go to a city like Mumbai or Pune and you will see vada pav stalls lined up at every busy street corner. Affordable and readily available the snack has people from different walks of life huddled elbow to elbow outside their favourite vada pav stall to get their fix of this hot and spicy Indian answer to a burger. Some prefer to chew on it at leisure while others just swallow it fast – and of course others take a parcel and to enjoy it in the comfort of their privacy.
It is believed that vada pav was invented in Bombay by Ashok Vaidya, a snack vendor who ran a street stall just outside the bustling Dadar station. Vaidya came up with this recipe in 1971 as an answer to the demand of the hungry ever-moving commuters who seemed in desperate need of a snack on the go.
Since then, the vada pav has satisfied and pleasured the palate of millions as breakfast, lunch, dinner and most importantly a snack on the go. As is the case with most street foods, the vada pav too has undergone purification and standardization attempts. In 2008, an elaborate festival called the Vada Pav Sammelan (vada pav convention), was sponsored by the Shiv Sena, a regional political movement in Mumbai. 27 popular vada pav vendors participated in the convention where people were invited to come and taste vada pavs and give their verdict on the best quality and recipe. The best vada pav, to be picked was to be standardized under the ‘Shiv Vadapav’ brand a soon to be launched Maharashtrian fast-food chain. For the hygiene conscious chains like Goli Vada Pav and Jumbo King Vada Pav have managed to get this quintessential king of street food off the streets and into a Mc Donald’s like safe and cool avatar.
Such is the popularity of this spicy fritter that it has now found a place next to tall glasses of cool alcoholic drinks at pubs and eateries dressed up as butter toasted vada pav or mini vada pavs à la sliders.
This batter fried potato delight has become such a culture icon of Maharashtra, that in a recent controversy involving an Indian English author’s remark on the culture of the state of Maharastra, the self-proclaimed defenders of culture in Mumbai landed up outside her house with a plate of vada pav to give her a “real taste” of the Maharashtrian culture.
The batata (potato) vada is not just restricted to street food stalls, canteens, restaurants and enthusiastic personal kitchens, its star quality earned it a prominent place in a romantic song in a Hindi film in the late 80’s. The song, Batata Vada had the delightful snack playing the role of cupid as the lyrics indicated – Dil jo mujhe nahin dena tha dena pada, Batata Vada, batata Vada (my heart which I didn’t intend to give, I eventually had to, potato fritter, potato fritter) www.youtube.com. A song in Marathi, the state language of Maharashtra is called Ya Baicha Batata Vada (this woman’s potato fritter) talks about her culinary expertise in churning out the perfect batata vada.
From the poor man’s food to the snack on the go, from the middle class branded delight to the rich man’s gourmet meal, the vada pav has travelled many plates. Whichever plate you choose to pick make sure it’s on a rain-drenched afternoon accompanied with a hot cup of chai.
600 gms of potatoes
1 one inch piece ginger
10-12 cloves of garlic
4-5 green chillies
1 1/2 cups of gram flour (besan)
1 tspn of red chilli powder
salt to taste
a pinch of soda bi-carbonate (baking soda)
1/4 tspn turmeric powder
2 tblspns of chopped coriander leaves
Oil to fry
01. Boil, cool, peel and mash the potatoes and keep aside. Make a paste of ginger, garlic and green chillies.
02. Prepare a thick batter of besan with water, red chilli powder, salt and soda bi-carbonate. Heat a little oil. Add ginger-garlic-green chilli paste.
03. Add mashed potatoes and turmeric powder and mix well. Add chopped coriander leaves and salt to taste. Let the mixture cool. When cold, form lemon sized balls.
04. Heat oil in a kadai. Dip the potato balls into the besan batter and deep fry in hot oil till light golden brown.
05. Serve hot with chutney or sauce of your choice.
© Aryaa Naik