Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mumbai: A Study in Street Food

Seldom has an Indian fiction hero uttered the phrase “as pretty as poha”. Despite all the antics displayed by Tamil heroes on screen, they’re hardly ever referred to as “as dashing as dosa”. Even if you have, I cannot remember anyone using a term like “as upbeat as upma” to describe a cheerful state of mind. There are certain phrases that are certainly not possible.

Let us accept it. Certain kinds of food do not ooze romanticism, and never have or will find a place in classical literature. Ever. There is a reason for that.

Of course, Mumbai street food has a lot beyond all this. Maharashtra being a neighbour of both Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, it has its own abundant supply of dosas, idlis and vadas — enough to support its perpetual supply of poha and upma; you also get sweet (yes, I repeat, sweet) panipuris — something I have never seen any phuchka connoisseur ever come to terms with — and its various cousins (sev puri, ragda puri and the likes); bread pakora, which was often referred to as katlis (cutlet?); and of course, chaats of all sorts.

However, if you really want to have the real thing, you need to turn to paaw — the undisputed emperor of Mumbai street food.

Paaw. The word that sends a tingling sensation down the spine of every bonafide Mumbaikar. The soft bifurcated yeasty hemisphere of persistence that has made its presence over decades to form the culinary spine of the city and help it reach today’s lofty heights. Magic.

Before setting my foot in The City That Never Sleeps, I was under the perpetual idea that paaws are meant to serve a dual purpose: to be wrapped around weird balls of potato to form more widely accepted versions of McAloo Tikki, and to be served alongside extremely perverse-looking red gravy containing bits of vegetables.

Mumbai opened my eyes completely and made me see things in a different viewpoint altogether. Of course, there was the ubiquitous vada paaw; it’s just that vada is not the only component that goes inside paaws. Bhajiya paaw, for example: four or five slices of potato fried in pakoda batter, sandwiched inside a butter-smeared paaw; anda-paaw: boiled eggs, sliced in half, inserted inside; samosa-paaw: whole samosas accommodated inside paaws (how is someone supposed to hold the thing?); and the most innovative of all — Maggi paaw: a dulcet existence of oily Maggi noodles, stuffed inside the brown-white version of bread that so enriches The Cultural Capital of India.

And then, there is misal paaw: a rather incredible blend of ghugni and chanachur served alongside paaws; and its half brother, usal paaw: an inimitable product made of boiled potatoes, peas and coconuts to accompany the paaw. And then you get the dabeli — a dish that can be found in Mumbai, is extremely overhyped, has a mysterious larger-than-life image and has managed to trick Abhishek into believing it is actually good — in other words, extremely similar to Aishwariya Rai.

***

Postscript: Tired and frustrated of the word “paaw”, I had finally managed to acquire a baai. Of course, this meant that I would stop eating out and get her to cook. I went to the greengrocers, and asked rather innocently, “bhaiya, bhindi kitne ka?”

“Dus rupya paaw”.

24 comments:

  1. I kept reading and I kept laughing through the entire post... :D :D and I can't stop laughing... Hilarious...

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  2. Delicious post.

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  3. aww,for the ignorant--August 23 is vada paw day.
    paaw has his cousin in batata vada-a raconteur bun.though i don't know the difference.
    -Sanyuki

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    1. Thank you for that wonderful bit of information. Really lit up my day.

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  4. He he... darun hoyechhe!! BTW, ami besh bhalo paw bhaji banai nije... tumi Bangalore eso... khaoabo!! ;-)

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    1. Ei warningta na dile ashtam hoyto, shotyii.

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  5. Wit and food - two of my favourites :)...

    Now if you ask in Marathi to see a quarter paaw...

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  6. Ovi babu,you could have thougt of an innovative title for this piece.Not that I'm complaining...I eagerly await your posts on weekends.

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    1. I know, but this is just a follow-up on my Mumbai: A Study in Names post. I intend to pursue with this Mumbai: A Study in So-and-So series.

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  7. Paaw?!!
    It should be 'Paaow'.
    'Paaow' for the bun/ bread
    'Paav' for the measure of weight. e.g. 250 grams

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    1. I didn't spot any difference between the fast food seller and greengrocer's accent.

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  8. I love vada-paaw & paaw-bhaji both...but that was because I never had 2 hav it regularly....I especially loved the paav-bhaji that a friend's mom used 2 make for her school tiffin...
    however, I warn u, don't u ever dare hav the sweet pani puri... it's a sin 2 even prepare 1,let alone eat...

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    1. Had the panipuri. Do you know that there is a version where they put corn in the phuchka? I kid you not.

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  9. Oshadharon!
    Aar shobkichur shaathe ekta fau " Paaw na" - orange colour er jhol!Eta je ki oshojhjho hote paare ttar dharona aamader moto khub kom loker aache. Aamar mote shobcheye barabari hochche Misal paaw - orange jhole e dube thake ghugnir motordana aar taar opore bheshe thaka jhole bheja chanachur, shaathe paaaw! ombol aar acididty shoyong dhonnontory o atakate paarbe na! Shaabdhan oshober dike "Ek Paaw" bario na!

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    1. Subhro, my first memory of misal paaw will remain etched forever. I asked for misal paaw in the office cafeteria.

      They gave me a plate with two khops. One had chopped onion, the other had chanachur.

      I got confused. Then, all of sudden, they poured ghugni on the chanachur. Bright orange ghugni.

      Then, in another khop, they placed the ubiquitous paaw.

      It took me about a minute to digest the entire thing and take the plate.

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  10. paaw is indeed amusing here..
    just loved the way u treated food in a unique manner !!!

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  11. Pao bhaji eto kharaap laage khete? :O Roj khete holey Biriyani-o baaje laagbe bodh hoy. Aamar nijer du' maase tin maase pao bhaji'r Kolkata songskoron bhaloi laagey. Mumbai-te ekbaar streetside joint-e kono jhnooki naa niye pao bhaji order dilam, seta tokhon pawa gelona...ogotya order dilam Misaal Pao(aagey dekhini kobhu taare, naam-i shunechhi shudhu jaar!). Plate asaar por tyaltyale doi-makha chanachur diye pao khabar katha kolponaa korei kanna peye gechhilo.

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    1. Shiri, oto kharap lagena. Kintu it's about paaw everywhere. Paaw bhaji, vada paaw, samosa paaw, misal paaw, bhajiya paaw, anda paaw, paawpaawpaawpaawpaawpaawpaawpaaw...

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  12. Late start-just read it. Mumbaikar's lifeline treated with such disdain....Riot..:):)

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  13. this article is as a socialite will descibe as "paaw-wow"! i love paaw...nt with anything..but with sukha chutney..the there is maska paw, bhrun paaw..and the basi paw to be had with tea..paaw is to a mumbaikar what muri is to bangalis...goes with everything..

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