Getting the taste of the Mumbai street vendor’s Pav Bhaji

by Vrinda Birla

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Pav Bhaji! Two words that are music for any Mumbai-ite, regular consumers of the stuff at the street vendors and one may say “who have grown up on the stuff”. Despite the regular consumption on almost every outing or feasible opportunity, the taste lingers long and much after the stuff is devoured, to beckon again and again. That is the pull of the Mumbai street vendor’s Pav Bhaji whose culinary skills in getting crowds to come and have the stuff despite having to stand or find their own places to sit, wait their turn in long queues despite the time consumed are unmatched by even the best restaurants in the city. The ingredients are the same, the hygiene at restaurants far better, nothing to say of homes and the comfort in having it with ambience and comfort. Yet the street vendor’s stuff despite everything draws the numbers of male and female, young and old, couples or groups, the college goer or the officer, the average householder or the extra rich. Tales are exchanged of how tangy, spicy or tear-jerking was the stuff at this or that stall and discussions to heated exchanges (sometimes) on which street vendor’s offerings are the best in the city.

The lot of the vendors who cater to this flocking frenzy, do not mind the toil, the pressures of the local authorities and the law enforcers, the incessant calls for fresh orders, replenishments, special instructions about the ‘Bhaji’ from the customers, and the continuous dishing out of the stuff. They have also come to love their task and one can say quite truthfully, they consider it an ‘art’ more than a means of livelihood.

Let us go over how Pav Bhaji is made and the so called Bhaji masala which is considered the secret mantra or special ingredient of the Mumbai street vendor, that makes the difference between enjoyable and lip-smacking.

 

                                                                                Pav Bhaji

What you will need (the ingredients)

  • chopped cauliflower – 1 cup 
  • medium / small potatoes – 2 /4
  • chopped capsicum (bell peppers) – ½ cup      
  • green peas – ½ to ¾ cup                                                                         Pav-Bhaji-Ingredients
  • butter or oil – 1 tbsp / 2 tbsp
  • medium onions – 2 (3/4 cup finely chopped)
  • tomato – 1 large or 2 medium
  • green chilly – 1 medium or 2 small
  • chilly powder – ½ tsp
  • turmeric – ¼ tsp
  • ginger garlic paste – 1 tsp
  • kasuri methi or dried fenugreek leaves – ¼ tsp
  • pav bhaji masala (powder) – ¾ to 1 tbsp
  • Pav (buns) – 4 to 6
  • additional butter for the pav

In addition for the garnishing for the Bhaji you could have

  • lemon wedges
  • chopped onions
  • coriander leaves
  • butter – 1 tbsp                             

 

Making the Pav Bhaji

  1. Put the potatoes, cauliflower, peas in a pressure cooker. Cook for 1 or 2 whistles on a medium flame. Cook, then put aside for cooling. After it cools see that they are soft and cooked.
  2. Take the butter / oil in a pan. As it heats add the onions. fry them till they become translucent.
  3. Now add the ginger paste and keep frying till you get a good smell. Let the mix not burn.
  4. pav bhaji methodFry with capsicum for 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Now add the tomatoes, fry them till they turn soft, mushy and pulpy.
  6. Add the chilly powder, turmeric, salt, and pav bhaji masala powder. Mix the lot and fry for another 2 minutes.
  7. Add the boiled vegetables and mash everything well.
  8. Pour water just enough to get the right consistency. add the kasuri methi and again cook on simmer till the consistency is maintained and the aroma of masala gives out. Now put the coriander leaves and switch off the gas stove.
  9. The Bhaji is ready.
  10. Heat butter on a large open pan. slit the buns horizontally with one edge still attached. Toast it on both sides well enough.
  11. You can smear a little butter, toast and then sprinkle Pav Bhaji masala on the inner portions of the buns to make it spicier.
  12. Garnish with onions, put a little butter, serve the Pav Bhaji hot.

Making the Pav Bhaji Masala before hand

If you believe that you have it in you to get the tangy, spicy taste of the street vendor’s Pav Bhaji then your Masala powder that you make has to be correct so that the Bhaji you make can stand the test of getting the accolades from those whom you treat your Pav Bhaji.
What you will need (the ingredients)
The measure for the ingredients shall be a cup (240ml)

  •  Black cardamoms (small) – 2 nos.                                                         Pav-Bhaji-Masala-Powder-Homemade-2
  • Coriander seeds (Dhaniya) – 4 tbsp
  • Cumin (jeera) – 2 tbsp
  • Black pepper corn – 2 tsp
  • Fennel seeds (saunf) – ¾ tbsp
  • Red chillies (dry) – 5 nos.
  • Cinnamon (bark) – 2 inch piece
  • Cloves – 6 nos.
  • Amchur powder (dry mango powder) – 1 tbsp

Making the Pav Bhaji Masala powder

1.See that all the ingredients are cleaned, free from any foreign particles like stones and dust.
2.Dry roast each ingredient in turn till their individual flavours give out. Use medium flame and a medium sized pan. Do not burn.
3.Add the dry mango powder or amchur to the already heated pan and get the aroma.
4.Remove the pan and get the ingredients to cool completely.
5.Put the entire lot in a blender and powder. Sieve in case some large particles do not get powdered.
6.Remove the powder from the blender and store in an air tight glass container.
7.Use as and when required. If judiciously used lasts 6 months.

Make the Pav Bhaji Masala beforehand as directed. Prepare the Pav Bhaji as per the directions once. Taste and enjoy. Next time merely serve to a few friends without mentioning about the Masala you have made.

If you have them licking their fingers, smacking their lips and enjoying to the last bit, you have passed the ‘street vendor test’. After that confidently serve at will to any number of guests. You could even hear remarks like “as good as the Pav Bhaji wala’s stuff” or “ Fantastic! Why not give a cooking lesson to my wife? 

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