Each time Ram Gupta of Bhagwat Prakash food stall at Elphinstone Road station dips his batter in oil to prepare vadas, he claims passing commuters pause at least for a whiff. It is not difficult to believe Gupta. The monsoon has turned all things fried into a delicacy, and Bhagwat Prakash stall has reputation built over years as advertisement. All through the day, Mumbai’s hurried and harried commuters mill around the stall, to grab a quick bite ot pack something for inside the train.
Eating at the city’s suburban railway stations is an art. Despite the constant jostling of crowds, the fear of missing the train, Mumbaikars manage to enjoy a snack on platforms, and with the pouring rain making it difficult to eat on roadsides, the popularity of railway station stalls has soared. Many commuters, however, have older bonds with particular stalls.
“I come to have chicken frankie from Tibbs at Churchgate station whenever I am hungry. I find it to be the cheapest and most convenient location for a frankie,” claims Raghav Sarcar, a regular commuter.
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“During the monsoon, our stall gets even more crowded,” claims Subuddin, a worker at Tibbs. “They find it convenient to eat inside the station rather than get wet outside. But many loyal customers come to us everyday. Our chicken and egg frankies are the most popular.”
Commuters also find these stalls easy on the pocket. “I get a vada-pav for Rs 8 and tea for Rs 5 here. Where else can I get such cheap food?”, claims a visitor at Bhagwat stall.
Over the years, food stall owners have brought in variety to the fare they serve their patrons. While an apple juice centre at CST has attained fame among thirsty commuters, a Jumbo King vada pav stall at Chembur serves different sizes of vada pavs to cater to different appetites.
“I love the experiments at Jumbo King. For example, they make a ‘jumbosa’ — a jumbo dosa — and it is so tasty. During rains, when I crave something fried, I come here for the Crispy Veg Jumbo vada pav,” claims Pavitra Ramaswamy, a commuter.
However, for some railway employees, these stalls are more staple than savoury.
R K Srivastav, a motormen on the Central Railway, said, “For years, Diwadkar vada pavs at Karjat station have fed us finger-licking spicy vadas. A motorman passing through Karjat makes sure he buys some food from there. It is a tradition.”
Another railway official says, “There are plenty of such food joints at stations that make really good food. We have known them for so long that they invite us over for tea.”
When asked if hygiene standards among the stalls were a concern, Pralhad Choudhary, a motorman says, “Yes, hygiene is an issue. However, trains hardly halt for a minute and we have to make arrangements for food during that gap. These stalls are our best bet.”