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Fried and tested

IF the distinct identities of cities are shaped through their most common sights,sounds and smells,the streets of Mumbai are characterised by the whiff of frying batata vadas.

Written by Nikhil Roshan | Published: February 1, 2009 1:59 am

Vada pav or Shiv vada—winners of the Sena-induced contest say the potato burger is closer to the hearts of Mumbaikars than one may imagine

IF the distinct identities of cities are shaped through their most common sights,sounds and smells,the streets of Mumbai are characterised by the whiff of frying batata vadas. Of course,there is the smell of roasted peanuts and gram,or the rustle of bhel,but nothing catches the fancy of the office-leaving

executive or the wage labourer like the sight of the stall on the street corner,doling out what some like

to call our desi answer to

the burger.

The vada pav,a culinary delight whose emergence some trace back to the heyday of the mills,consists of mashed potato seasoned with mint and green chillies,dipped deep-fried in gram-flour batter and wedged between a bun,with quick smears of red,sweet tamarind chutney served with a spicy-red chilly-garlic powder. It’s “a sign of arrival in Maharashtra,” according to college student,Sreeram Rajan. “When I travel back from home in South India by train,I know I’m in Maharashtra when I hear the vendor enter the bogie with a basketful of hot vada pavs. And I always reach out for one,” he says,gleefully munching at his very own ‘joy in a bun’ at Ashok Satam’s GTO Vada Pav stall opposite Flora Fountain. A popular stopover for corporate executives,High Court lawyers,bankers and government employees,Satam’s stall has been on the same street-corner,selling vada pavs since 1971.

Of late,a curious sign embellishes his and four other stalls in the city. A laminated,newspaper cut-out from the Shiv Sena newspaper Saamna,pronouncing five winners of a competition to find the best vada pav makers in the city. The competition that brought together about 80 vendors from Mumbai and Thane at Shivaji Park,late November last year,is a recent “initiative” by the Shiv Sena to rescue what Satam calls a threatened cultural symbol.

“The rules of the BMC that are getting stricter by the day threaten our livelihoods. This initiative will streamline our sector and give us legitimacy,” Satam says. The plan as it stood for the Shiv Sena,was to create 100 ‘Shiv Vada’ (predictably named) stalls that would serve a standardised taste borrowing the best culinary flourishes from the five short-listed winners. Mangesh Pandit—the first ranker whose Tasty Vadapav thela in Borivli serves nearly 1,500 vada pavs a day— has a simple secret to his recipe. “We make the vada pav that we would like to eat,” Pandit says handing out the mildly spiced vada pavs to queuing customers.

But nothing prepared us for the riot to grab a bite at Chandrakant Garud’s Shahunagar stall in Mahim East. At 7 pm,railway commuters scramble and push past each other to get their evening snack. “People get angry when we run out of food. We try as much as we can to satisfy everyone,” says a visibly stressed Garud handing out vada pavs as helpers in orange uniforms and aprons stir out vadas from pots of boiling oil.

The competition has brought them publicity and therefore a larger clientele. Vasant Name of Vile Parle and Dilip Surodkar at Fort,the remaining two short-listed winners,have seen more customers than ever. Surodkar,a senior member of the Mumbai hawkers union,tells a pretty amazing tale about the voyage the vada pav made to the Indian capital to win the hearts of politicians there. “Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut took about 2,000 vada pavs for people like Hema Malini,Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Shatrughan Sinha to give the Shiv vada the status it deserves.”

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