Mumbai’s street food is its soul, with every nook and corner swarming with hundreds, if not thousands of stalls that prep fresh food every day. Most delicacies at these stalls revolve around the humble ‘pav.’ Pav is essentially a soft, golden bread roll made with wheat flour and yeast. It is used to make several well-known dishes, from the vada pav to pav bhaaji and even anda or egg pav, the locals of Mumbai cannot get by without this humble bread. But is this bread local to the city or did it make its way from the outside?
The Bombay pav has its roots in Portugal. The Portuguese ruled Goa as a colony until 1961, 14 years after India gained its independence from Britain. The story goes, that with the invasion of the Portuguese in Goa, the Portuguese missed their bread, the “pão” in meals, as well as for their religious rituals. The Portuguese cuisine at the time revolved around bread, butter and potatoes, and their preference was for this particular leavened bread.
But given that the procurement of yeast was difficult, an essential ingredient in the making of bread, Goan cooks came up with the idea of using toddy to ferment the dough. This gave birth to the bread we know today as ‘pav.’ The new, local pav made its way to Mumbai in the 1960s when Goan locals started migrating to Mumbai in search of work opportunities. The Goans found their way into Mumbai during the same time the Parsis came in from Iran.
With the introduction of the Goan pav to the Mumbai Street food and cafe scene, the Iranians made this bread their own by serving it with kheema or minced meat as breakfast in their traditional cafes. Over a period of time, the pav was served alongside various traditional dishes and consumed by commuting workers, who found it convenient to fill it with other ingredients and carry it to work. The pav began being served with all types of dishes, meat, curries, and veggies and soon became an integral part of the city’s cuisine.
In the current day, pav is integral to Mumbai’s street food and is an affordable and convenient food to consume. It has upgraded its status, from just being an easy food for the working class to bread consumed by the majority. The pav has made its mark on the city’s gastronomic map, and it would be a shame to leave the city without trying some iconic pav dishes.
This classic street food snack is said to have been invented in the year 1966, by Ashok Vaidya, who started the first vada pav stall opposite Dadar train station. Vada pav is a vegetarian fast-food dish that consists of a deep-fried, spiced potato ball that is coated with chickpea flour. It is then placed inside the pav, along with the addition of two different chutneys (one sweet and one spicy), and is served with a slit, fried green chilli for some added flavour.
The term missal translates to ‘mixture’ in the Marathi language and with this dish being a combination of numerous ingredients, the name is well-fitted. The missal consists of a spicy gravy base called tarri, made with either green chillies and coriander or dry roasted bay-leaf and black pepper, even red-chilli powder when making a red curry base. It also includes a curry called ussal, made from matki or moth bean, watane or dried pea or even mung beans. Added to these two curry bases are spiced potatoes, chivda, farsan and a garnish of onions, tomatoes, coriander and lemon wedges. This delicious dish is served with a side of pav to mop it all up.
This popular dish is said to have originated in the 1880s, to satiate Mumbai’s cotton merchants, who would leave work early in the morning after receiving cotton prices from America. The bhaaji is essentially a mixed vegetable curry that is made in a tomato base and served along with diced onions, lemon wedges and a dollop of butter.
The Dabeli is a snack that made its way into Mumbai from the neighbouring state of Gujrat sometime in the late 1990s. The term Dabeli translates to ‘pressed,’ and the dish is essentially a mixture of spiced boiled potatoes, roasted peanuts, pomegranate seeds and sev being pressed into a pav along with sweet and spicy chutneys.