In the Mumbai of the sixties and seventies, when textiles mills populated the Parel region, workers from these factories would make a pit stop at Dadar for a quick snack, before boarding the local train home. Food vendors would line up selling omelet, pav and vadas, says food curator Kunal Vijayakar on his YouTube channel, Khaane Mein Kya Hai. One of the vendors noticed that the pav was stuffed with omelet and sold, which gave him the idea of stuffing it with hot vadas instead. Most say the vendor was Ashok Vaidya who now runs the city’s most popular vada pav stall, Ashok Vada Pav near Kirti College in Dadar.
The best vada pav combines different textures—softness of the bread, mushy potato fritter and crunch of fried besan—and a melange of tastes—be it the appetising thecha chutney made with chillies, garlic, mint and coriander, the fiery fried chillies that are balanced off by a sweetish imli chutney. To add extra punch, some vendors grind crisp fried besan bits with red chillies and serve it as a condiment. The popularity of this street snack grew far and wide, and has secured a place in high-end restaurants and bars across the world.
Those new to Mumbai or visiting the city, must make a mandatory trip to the inimitable Ashok Vada Pav. His chura pav, stuffed with just the hot crunchy bits of besan, is incomparable. Another recommendation is Nandu Vada Pav in Chembur which is run by a woman and is popularly known as Aunty Vada Pav. The secret sauce of her recipe are the chutneys. Another place that created a niche for itself is Gajanan Vada Pav in Thane. They serve their vada pavs on a dried leaf alongside a tasty besan chutney.
For those not in Mumbai, try this detailed recipe for mouthwatering vada pavs.