Real pav bhaji, that was once synonymous with Mumbai street food

I remember whenever I travelled up North, my relatives would often ask me about pav bhaji and how keen they were to taste it whenever they would get a chance to visit BOMBAY. Given it’s fame, variants had reached every corner of the country, with localised tweaks and adjusting the taste to suit the local palates. Infact, it’s recipe has travelled around the world with Mumbaikars and chefs across the world introducing their own versions.

Homemade pavbhaji

When Mumbai was still Bombay, the vegetarian leftovers from commercial kitchens that turned into mishmash the next day, was mashed together on a heavy cast iron tawa, along with added masala and dollops of ‘Amul’ butter and served piping hot, with lightly toasted soft pavs brushed with butter on flat iron tava . This was indeed a quick & tasty meal served at busy traders’ street now famously known as ‘Dalal Street’ , Asia’s first stock market . The Gujarati community majorly vegetarian were happy to eat during their busy hours trading in cotton and making fortunes. Even the textile mill workers survived on it during their night shifts. From rich to poor, everyone stands next to each other to grab a plateful of this spicy, buttery delight, lapping it up with fresh pavs. It was affordable , served hot and filled up hungry bellies and soon became the life line of mumbai people. Thus an iconic street food of Mumbai came into existence marking it’s presence all around the world.

Not every pav bhaji can bring you back to a food joint. Many add hell load of ginger garlic paste , that actually overpowers the basic flavors of the humble vegetables. I strongly believe that a good pav bhaji should come along with freshly chopped onions and a piece of lemon to balance the taste according to one’s palate, not forgetting the added blob of butter on the hot mishmash that looks like molten lava making its way in between freshly chopped onions .

The large iron tava is a integral part of pav bhaji. It actually holds in all the flavors layered up gradually with time. I doubt if the tava is regularly washed. The foodies turn into live spectators and the ustad (self proclaimed chef) is the magician. Customers patiently stand around watching the preboiled mix veggies , the leftovers and boiled potatoes encircled like a boundary. The display of different raw vegetables add to the colourful glory . The ustad drags a small lot from the boundary into the hot center of the tava and the show starts with a merciless mashing up all the ingredients with a special masher, adding secret masalas and dollops of butter . The sizzle of butter and the rhytmic ‘tic tok’ of the metal spatula/masher, act as one to entice the passersby… making sure that the hungry customers waiting anxiously fall in love with the aromas and definitely have a plate.

PC Adv. Kapil Kumar

Then comes the pav, an important soulmate of this iconic dish. It has to be fresh and soft with a crusty cover that is slightly salty. Pav has its own history and comes from various bakeries hidden away in small gullies of Mumbai mostly run by members of the Muslim community . Pav bakeries have been there much before the dish was invented. A stale pav with sour flavour can destroy the taste of the dish while the sweet buns are an absolute NO NO ! Now the pav has to be smothered with butter and rubbed around on the same tava which absorbs even the minute traces of bhaji. Served piping hot , the bhaji will easily coat the buttered pav teasing, tantalising each taste bud.

The serving tray is again iconic to the snack turned meal . Slotted shallow steel trays with four compartments . The largest one reserved for hot mashup that spread evenly so as to not seep into the pav and make it soggy. The buttered pav has its place near the bhaji while rest two small compartments are for the chopped onions and a piece of lemon. Sprinkle the chopped onions and squeeze the lemon on it . Mix it well and dig in a larger first bite, blowing on it to ensure you don’t scald your tongue in the haste to savour the dish. There are few old iconic places which never use slotted trays instead stick to regular plates. Best part of these steel utensils is , they are manhandled so much that they are all buckled on the edges, which has become a kind of trademark of pav bhaji eateries. You’re not done with just one serving of two pavs as the bhaji still remains on your plate…So shamelessly order another round of buttery pavs. The reason is simple… serve more bhaji so that you make money on extra pav. That’s how you start adding to the real profits. The fact that all the ingredients are basic, available round the year contributed to its success graph. The butter is the only expensive product here, apart from making sure that the bhaji tastes priceless.

While finishing my college , I stopped eating it as the bhaji turned into pureed gravy with senseless additions of various other ingredients like corn, bottle gourd , pumpkin, papaya , raw bananas and brinjals obviously to earn more profits. Like any other dish, over the years, the humble pav bhaji too got new versions like Jain pav bhaji (without onions , ginger and garlic), infact with raw bananas, which just doesn’t relate to the original dish. The ‘khada masala pav bhaji’ with whole lot of coarse spices, not completely mashed up veggies and more pungent flavors. The ‘hirwa masala pav bhaji’ with pureed leafy vegetables , the ‘kathiyawadi pav bhaji’ with typical flavors served with farsan, the ‘south indian pav bhaji’ with sambhar powder and the latest ones are ‘cheese and mayo bhaji’. There is even a ‘kaala pav bhaji’, where the color turns out dark, not the usual red/brown. I believe the original pav bhaji is dressed up to suit the regional palates and religious norms.

The new generation is experimenting with fusion of all kinds from pizza , burgers, sandwiches, kathi rolls to ice creams and fondues trying to get the attention of foodies, who might not be keen like me. The pureed bhaji on ready-made pizza base at school and college canteens can be referred to as cheap fusion but sadly the new generation is missing on the real tasty meal . The pav bhaji samosa is something that brings together two favorite snacks, and is still manageable if the filling does justice to the crispy covering of the deep fried triangle . The snack turned meal can be found near every railway station, bus stops, in restaurants, at small food joints, cafes, street food carts and small hole in the wall eateries everywhere in Mumbai and adjoining places, including live counters at wedding buffets but sadly, has lost its original flavor.

I have seen the pav bhaji changing from a flavorful mix, to a red colored pureed tasteless mess, probably comprising stale potatoes, topped with cheap greasy mayo , fake cheese , fake butter and margarine to call it fusion. The new generation buying packaged frozen version killing the flavors with added preservatives , taste enhancers and colors without actually knowing the real taste. My love for the dish diminished with changing versions sold at every nook and corner of the city , probably because I’m used to the taste of real pav bhaji which still lingers on my taste buds.

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Patta ghobi achaar

The purple cabbage is one of the most fascinating vegetables that mother nature has gifted us. I simply love color and the textures with slight natural sweetness . It’s been a long time I made cabbage pickle typically Indian way. Supermarket prices can really burn a hole in your pocket so I waited to find them in local market . Brought couple of them home for various dishes with pickle mainly on my mind. The procedure is slightly time taking but the results are rewarding ! What I like about cabbage pickle is that it actually brings out all the flavors togather with it’s natural sweetness giving a perfect balance. The crunchy texture , the color and flavors welcoming the short lived winters in Mumbai.

Red cabbage pickle

Recipe

Ingredients

500gms shredded red cabbage(regular cabbage is ok)

2 tablespoon white vineger

3 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 tablespoon black mustard

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 tablespoon red chilli powder

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon nigela seeds

2-3 slit green chillies (optional)

1 tablespoon salt ( saltiness various with different brands)

2-3 pinches of hing

Half cup mustard oil (go with experience)

Method

Spread the shredded cabbage on a plate and allow it to sun dry only for a day to make sure that little of moisture is naturally evaporated since cabbage has high content of water. Cabbage can really help weight loss if we know how to consume it in our regular diet.

In a clean vessel mix vineger , cabbage and green chillies. Let it rest while you prepare for the masala.

In a blender , add both mustard and fenugreek seeds making a sandy mix. Add nigela seeds and fennel seeds . Spin couple of times. Add the rest of dry masala including hing and spin to mix it well. This mix is regular north Indian pickle masala.

Add the masala , salt and mustard oil to the cabbage . Mix well . Transfer to clean glass jar and cover it with muslin cloth . Cabbage takes little longer to pickle so let it rest under sun while covered with muslin for 2-3 days. Make sure to keep the glass jar inside during night. This is to keep any pickle safe from dew drops.

One can always make changes if know how to make pickles. Regional touch can be added to any pickle and that’s the beauty of our country where pickles are important with almost every meal. Pickle helps to keep our gut healthy with natural probiotics while tingling our taste buds. For generations we have known that pickle have medicinal properties because of the ingredients used. These days ready made pickles with hell lot of preservative has replaced the real home made pickles. Sadly the art pickle making is slowly disappearing.

Kaddu lachcha kheer

Only a Benarasi knows how to bring out the best from a humble pumpkin . Infact we enjoy to tease loved ones calling them out as “kaddu” so that’s how much we UPwalas love our kaddu. My maa would make pumpkin very often and at times it would be really annoying. I mean “kyon bhaaai , kaddu bhi koi khaane ki cheez hai ?” Pumpkin is also part of ceremonial dishes. The haldi ceremony during weddings and thread ceremony in north do have khatta meetha kaddu and puris served on pattals . A festival thali will have kaddu ki sabzi as a star dish. Tempered with kalongi or methi or zeera brings out different flavors of the same pumpkin. Having a lot more in savory dishes , pumpkin is very much celebrated in sweet dishes too. At the age of 12 , I made my first sweet dish with pumpkin as a main ingredient. I remember cooking this on karwa chouth day when maa  was busy cooking mutter ki kachoris and kaddu ki sabzi for her puja feast. It was kind of my contribution to her puja prasad though I never believed in any kind of fasting. I loved the way her face glowed even after day long fast and the first spoon of kaddu ki kheer… priceless !

Kaddu lachcha kheer

Recipe

Ingredients

2 cups grated pumpkin

1 lit buffalo milk

2-3 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon ghee

3-4 tablespoon blanched and chopped dried fruit of choice. I have used almonds and pistachios

Few dried rose petals for garnish and flavors.

Method

In a heavy bottomed utensil start slowly reducing the milk while stiring occasionally.

Heat a nonstick pan. Add ghee and gently stir fry grated pumpkin. Just enough to make it coated with ghee so that it doesn’t disintegrate in milk while cooking along.

Once the milk is reduced to 55-60% add pumpkin and cook it for another 10mins. Add sugar and make sure its cooked and kheer is thickened enough. Add blanched dried fruits. Once it’s cooled down to room temperature add rose petals and chill it.

Final reduced kheer

Nothing more divine than a chilled kaddu ki kheer.

Ulhasnagar Chaliha Sahib

The history of Thane always amazes  me which bring me to a new chapter of Ulhasnagar, which was originally known as Kalyan camp, especially made to accommodate thousands of soldiers and military officers during World War II. The camp consisted of  2126 barracks and around 1173 homes of military personals. The deserted camps later became homes for refugees from Sindh who migrated during partition where they started reclaiming their lives.  Thus Ulhasnagar came into existence in 1952, with its name derived from Ulhas river, became refugee camp for thousands of Sindhis and is a bustling town which still gives aura of the partition times , totally chaotic with no planned infrastructure . No one can imagine the agonies of each individual, the sorrows and the unseen future that came along with mankind’s largest migration till date that tore a country into two parts.

Ulhasnagar Station

Sindhis , also known for their business skills , are one of the oldest civilizations in the history with a rich and very distinct culture and heritage. The most important festival is cheti chand celebrating birthday of Lord Jhulelal.

Chalihasahib Gurudwara

The Sindhi Sikh migrants carried Akhand Jyot from Puj Chalihasahib Mandir Peergoath in Sindh and brought it to Ulhasnagar 5, originally barrack no.1804 ,  which became Chaliha Sahib Mandir , one of the most important temple which sindhis all over the world flock every year during Chaliha fasting, that kick starts on 2nd ekadahi of july . The akhand jyot is still lit that has guided Sindhis during their difficult times and protected their families. Lord Jhulelal , the guru is worshipped during chaliha following strict fasting rituals. The fasting is tough but builds great strength within the individual through complete 40 day rituals hence called as chaliha. During the 40 days festival strict regime is followed while avoiding heavy food which can be eating just one meal a day , strictly vegetarian , abstaining from alcohol , avoiding footwear and other addictions and maintaining simple life. Its basically self purification by dedicating oneself to the almighty.

Original Akhand Jyot

The fasting sindhi brings offerings of  rice , flowers and mustard oil diyas which is called as AKHHO  and immerses it in the natural pond inside the temple premises .

Chalihasahib pond for offering Akhho

I was really lucky to visit Chalihasahib during the fasting festival. The premises was beautifully decorated with lights and devotional Sindhi songs stirring up the spiritual moods. The devotional songs having peculiar beat of dhol and manjira can easily make one dance. Every individual lit up with bright smiles and colorful clothes , greeting eachother ‘jai jhulelal’ , happy to guide and explaining the importance of Chalihasahib. Long queues for prasad which made no disparity amongst people patiently waiting for their turn.

Haath Prasadi

The simple daalrice and aloo sabzi served with a small piece of sweet was soul satisfying.

Prasad

The atmosphere started filling up as more devotees gathered up for evening arti with perfect chores . Loud shouts of “AAYO LAAL JHULELAL ” & ” JAI JHULELAL” really gave strong affirmation of the divine presence that has taken care of the sindhi community and of Ulhasnagar.

Lord Jhulelal

Credits : Thanks to Jagdish Wadhwa helping me in research .

Falooda..dessert of deserts

Falooda …yessss it’s basically love disguised as dessert. You always go back for more to greedily grab up the whole plate. I’m one such annoying person who can eat away the second lot too without any guilt. 

Kulfi icecream falooda
Adaa falooda Ulhasnagar 2

I love the sindhi style falooda since you can enjoy the thicker version with all the goey varieties ice creams and kulfies along with rich rabri and silken vermicelli. The rose water takes it to the heavenly version giving a nirvana feeling.  I fondly refer falooda maker as an artist for the obvious reasons.

Rabri falooda
Kailash falooda (Thane east)

The Indian falooda consists of two versions , the milkshake one and the thick version. The milkshake version which is served in a tall glass , will have extra milk added along with kulfi, ice-creams , rose water , fruits , various other fruity syrups , soaked sweet basil seeds and translucent wheat-starch noodles . The thicker version served in a bowl minus extra milk and basil seeds, while rest of all the goodies mentioned are added along with extra touch of thick rabri. The milk shakes version is more famous towards Mumbai city mostly at muslim community run restos while the thicker version is served in Thane and Ulhasnagar areas where sindhis have mastered the art make sure people fall in love with it. 

Milkshake falooda
Badshah Crawford Market
pic courtesy Google

Falooda which is influenced by dessert from Persia known as faloodeh and is possible been brought to India during the Mughal period. Thin vermicelli is used for preparing faloodeh that is made from arrowroot assembling with lemon sorbet or rose water while vermicelli used in the Indian version is usually made from wheat. Ice that gathered during the winter season from hills and was stored in large insulated underground chambers topped with domed structures which made sure that ice is available throughout the summer, even in the desert. The best use was made to prepare desserts like falooda , possibly other milk desserts as well. The recipe kept evolving with improved techniques and came in more delectable and sweet aromas of rose water and sugar syrup along with various seasonal fruits that were added with the stringy vermicelli. Now there are many versions of falooda are made without vermicelli and blended with fruit.  Each version narrates the story of the artist who added his/her touch making sure that we keep falling in love with it again and again.

Corn kernels burfi

Recently started my diet , obviously to lose all that i put on coz food obsession..which means majorly staying away from sweets which is a real challenge for me. Being really addicted to all kinds of sweet I need to find out something that is sweet yet healthy. Indian sweets can be really delightful since we can create awesome dishes from ingredients which usually relate with savory items. This time I choose fresh corn kernels as my main ingredient adding chenna as protein content and dates to give that sweet punch…I’m a satisfied soul after 2-3 corn and dates burfi..yesss absolutely divine !!


Recipe

Ingredients

1 cup pureed fresh corn kernels (do not add water)

Half cup fresh homemade chenna (cottage cheese crumbled)

5-6 irani dates chopped

2-3 tablespoon ghee

1-2 tablespoon milk (if required)

Finely chopped nuts (optional , i havent used it)

Method

Heat a nonstick pan and gently warm the ghee . Do not heat it at high temperature. Add corn puree , make sure its gently getting cooked and ghee starts separating.  

Add the finely mashed chenna and incorporate in the puree. Add milk if you feel that the mix is dry. Add chopped dates and mix well.

Remove the mix  in a square container and spread it evenly as shown in the picture. Let it sit for an hour. Cut into desired pieces.

burfi mix setting

Honestly,  this recipe stirred up while on my evening walks. One can always tweak the recipe by replacing chenna with khoya and adding honey or brown sugar instead of dates. I always feel that the flavors of main ingredient should be the hero of any recipe , so I avoid adding aromatic spices like cardamon or nutmeg.

3Cs (Tamale)

Its almost rainy season in Mumbai and sudden showers get me in a nostalgic mood. I remember the days when me and hubby dated. We both would rush to meet each other post our offices at meeting joint which was close to my college. The sudden showers would really bring us close trying to tuck in a single umbrella just enjoy hot spicy corn cob !! Well those were the days when romance was simple being together for a couple of hours and not seeing each other until the next opportunity or proper planning. Heading home after those romantic moment would give us enough breather until we meet next. As we celebrate our 23rd of marriage this year..the romance still exist but in a different form…like nudging and nagging each other for every bit yet want to be around all the time…so has the corn cob…fresh golden kernels that are sweet and tender like our love , has evolved in various recipes reminding me of the many rains that whispered while we got busy bringing up our children. Trying new recipes and tweaking few from mom’s kitchen. Tamale is one such recipe which I saw on TV after already had tried myself without knowing it really exist. So this is my version of fresh steamed corn kernels with chicken and cheese !

Recipe

Ingredients

1 cup fresh corn kernels

Wash & pat dry the corn husk

1 cup coarse corn flour (makai atta)

Few cloves of finely chopped garlic

1 cup diced boneless chicken

2-3 tablespoon of small diced carrot. You can add any veg of choice

2-3 tablespoon chopped corriander leaves

1 teaspoon coarse pepper

1 cup cheese

Few pickled red chillies

Salt to taste

Water to steam

Method

Coarsely grind the kernels. Add the remaining ingredients minus cheese. Meanwhile ready the steamer.

The kernel and corn flour mix with chicken

Place the mix on the husk and sprinkle cheese on top as shown in the picture.

Mix on corn husk with cheese

Place the corn husk loaded with mix inside the steamer. Allow it to cook for 5-7 minutes. Prick the chicken to check if cooked . Carefully remove and serve it with pickled chillies or sauce of your choice.

Steaming 3Cs

Best part of this dish is one can experiment with various ingredients keeping corn as star.

Peanut chutney … vada pav ki jaan

Being a thanekar or largely as Mumbaikar, I feel Bombay turns into Mumbai when we grab a piping hot vadapav. From rich to poor everyone lives on it. Honestly I believe it gives tough competition to any food in Mumbai. Each area has it famous vadapav wala who has his/her own chutney and vadapav lovers actually swear by the chutney that is stuffed along the vada. During college days , we often visited other campuses just to grab the famous vadapav . Students hold huge credit accounts with the vadapav walas who actually remembers each account just by looking at student’s faces while he may not even know the name of the students . The fact he would still happily take pride in talking about students who might still hold “udhaar” whenever students return as alumni and without fail go visit him.

For me , vadapav the last thing I would eat mainly coz I miss the real vadapav chutney . Somehow it’s actually disappeared and replaced by oily bits of deep fried batter of vada . The chutney is the star of any vada pav and I really miss it these days…😍😍 The chutney should have right crunch of toasted peanut , right amount of garlic and whole red chilles. You just cannot add chilli powder coz the texture changes completely. The dry coconut is just to lift up the combinations.

Recipe

Ingredients

100gms peanuts

5/6 whole red spicy chillies

1/2 byadgi /kashmiri red chillies (optional for color)

5/6 cloves of garlic

Inch of dried coconut sliced

Salt to taste

Method

I roasted the peanuts in microwave that helps to get rid of the skin. It’s ok if few don’t peel off. Dry roast dry coconut and whole red chillies on low flame. Let everything cool at room temperature.

Grind the coconut, garlic and chillies first and then add the peanuts grinding it coarsely. Remove it in a container and add salt.

This can be stored in fridge for long time.

Many do add toasted sesame seeds but I skip it coz then that’s another combination depending upon the region….for now im happy to grind my very own authentic vada pav chutney

Khapli gehun kheer

The foodie and chef in me are often on a lookout to find interesting ingredients to make something that can really help me learn and grow better as a cook. I take runs to supermarkets to find exotic ingredients , local vegetable vendors for regular stuff to twist recipes and local food markets to find produce coming from different states .

I call myself lucky to visit Solapur Fest that was happening near me and wanted to check something that could really catch my attention. The first stall, young farmer with a bright smile introduced me to khapli gahu / khapli wheat. ” Tai, he khapli gahu aahe , khaaun bagha, khoop aavdel. Kheer banva .” ( Sister this is khapli wheat , try out u will love it. Make kheer.)

Intrigued , I got a kilo and wanted to know more about it. As I googled, I was excited to know that khapli wheat also called as emmerwheat , is one of the ancient food grains with medicinal properties . The wheat is gluten free and helps losing weight and fight diabetes which are lifestyle diseases. Khapli is majorly found around Karnataka, dry regions of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh . I’m sure it must be available in other parts of our country as well. The fact that urbanisation has made us forget such almost amazing foods . We rely on easily available vegetables and food grains that are quick to cook and digest which definitely causes harm in long run. For me , I’m definitely adding this to my regular food.

Simply tried the first dish as suggested by the young farmer with a southern touch..

Khapli wheat kheer

Recipe

Ingredients

150 gms khapli wheat cleaned soaked for 12 hours

2 tablespoon jaggery powder/grated

half cup coconut milk

1 tablespoon ghee

2 crushed cardamom

Water to cook the wheat

Method

Pressure cook the soaked wheat with 2-3 cups water . It might need 7-8 whistles on slow flame. Make sure its cooked through.

In a blender give a quick spin to make it coarse without adding water . Heat a heavy bottomed vessel , add the remaining water from the cooked wheat and coarse wheat. Bring it to boil and add jaggery powder and cardamom.

Add ghee and cook it thoroughly and turn off the gas. Add the coconut milk and mix well.

The recipe is extremely simple bringing in the rustic flavors. It is important for me to make a basic dish first with any new ingredients so that i can understand the flavors to make more complex dishes.

Mirch achari chicken

Summers are known for making pickles and preserves especially India where we find large varieties of seasonal vegetables which aren’t easily available during rest of the year. The red chillies are one of such variety of chillies which are available between March and April. After having made a huge lot of stuffed red chilli pickle , I’m ready to experiment more recipes with the same. There was chicken waiting in my fridge and was bored with regular chicken recipes. So what next ?? Bring in the stuffed pickle and chicken together. The dish became a instant hit and everyone at home loved it . Polished off with hot fulkas with happiness shining bright . This is my first nonveg recipe on the blog !!

Mirch achari chicken

Recipe

Ingredients

500gms cut chicken with bones

Marination

Half cup thick curds

2 tablespoon mustard oil

1 tablespoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste

Half teaspoon turmeric powder

1 whole stuffed red chilli pickle UP style

More

2-3 tablespoon kasuri methi

2 tablespoon sunflower oil

One large onion finely chopped

Salt to taste

Coriander leaves for garnish

Method

Prepare the marinate and mix it with chicken and allow it to rest for an hour at room temperature.

Heat the sunflower oil and fry onions till pinkish. Add kasuri methi to allow it to release it’s aromas and fry another few seconds making sure kasuri methi doesn’t burn.


Add the marinated chicken and fry it on high flame until oil start appearing on surface . Make sure stir continuously. Add cup of hot water , salt to taste , cover and cook until done.

The dish will be thick and creamy with distinct flavors of pickle. Garnish with Coriander leaves . Serve with desired bread. I love it with paronthis and fulkas. I believe like pickle add spice to every meal , it definately works as marinades and stuffings.