I had never been to Bombay (Mumbai) until 2 years ago, in 2016, when we were visiting A’s cousins. It was a brief two-day affair and I felt like we were trying to cram New York in a weekend. It’s a vast metropolitan with a scintillating city life, skyscrapers and slums juxtaposed in the same postal codes; secrets and shrines infest little nooks and corners – how was I to explore and fall in love with the Bombay I had read about and dreamed of in two days? It happened nonetheless, but like New York, I don’t know if I could live there. It’s growing and changing faster than I can keep up, I fear it’ll leave me behind and I won’t know it like the back of my hand. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t revel in being part of that metamorphosis for two days. We had the most divine street food ordered off of a food-delivery app and covered the length and breadth of the city from the back of a sedan. It was all the time we had, so we played the tourist and I didn’t get to follow up on hole-in-the-wall recommendations our friends had made.
There were some Parsi cafes and historical eateries that we managed to squeeze in thanks for A’s cousins, and I was so glad to final set foot in Leopold’s Cafe – seedy and grimy just as Lin describes it in Shantaram. I still dream about that street food, and sometimes try to reconstruct the taste and texture on rainy Sunday afternoons over endless cups of chai, when the mood strikes. This is a humble attempt at recreating Vada Pav and for those who may not be familiar with it, it’s a humble burger of sorts with a fried potato patty served with spicy chutneys and fried green chilies. Pav is a popular milk bread roll found effusively in Indian bakeries. It’s a light, fluffy dinner roll used to scoop up gravies, chutneys, and curries.
The Vada situation gets tricky, because it ends up becoming a heavy patty filled with potatoes, and it needs to be cripsy without falling apart under its own weight. You have to be patient with frying it at low/medium consistent heat. The real bomb is the dry red garlic powder that goes on the Pav at the end, and of course, my mother’s famous coriander-mint chutney. Recipe follows, enjoy it over a steaming cup of chai and crisp Sunday morning editorial section.