My affair with street food has always been quite serious and never ending. An affair, which overlooks hygienic cooking environs, comfort of air-conditioned restaurants and even lack of nutrition. Something, which is meant to deliver a happy dance on my taste buds from crispy fried samosas to chewy kebabs to sweet popsicles to spicy beverages. Not to forget the dirt-cheap prices and quick service. Back home, despite the blow up of international fast food joints and cafes,when it actually came to choosing a quick bite, a deep fried samosa from the neighborhood sweets shop always scored over a burger. The choice overlooked the open air frying, lack of cleanliness & the flies around, it was the joy of giving in to the incredible taste.
India, a country of few billion people thrown together with handful of cultures and religious beliefs, alongside a grave number of vegetarians, has its own color and character when it comes to cuisine. Broadly, the cuisine can be classified into northern, southern, eastern and western.The same is true for street foods too. Each Indian city specializes in its own variety of street food. They say, that you can taste the culinary traditions of a country in its street food. Go to north indian states of Delhi and Punjab, you will find people rooting for samosa & chai, chaat, kebabs and rumali rotis (flatbreads) or pakoras (fritters). Land in the western states of Maharashtra (Mumbai & Pune ) to gorge on the vada pavs, pav bhaji, sev- poori and dhabeli. Reach down south to graze upon dosas (rice crepes), idlis, vadas (lentil fritters) or sundals.Or eat Tibetan momos, egg rolls & typical indo-chinese in the eastern states of India. The common thread binding all these foods is that of lip-smacking taste,which is sure to leave behind a lasting impression & satisfaction.
Inspite of all this regional classification, each variety of street food is available in every corner of the country,adapted to suit the local taste buds. Mostly, it is an indigenous improvisation of traditional fare but at the end of the day, it all boils down to what sells and how the neighborhood likes it, one or two exceptions here and there don’t matter much. The concept of fusion cuisine has even hit Indian street food, in all its flair.You can get things like chinese chaat or aloo tikki frankies etc selling like hot cakes on indian streets.Sometimes the fusion clicks but my experiences with these regional touches here and there have not been very pleasant, infact totally forgetable.Personally, it was quite painful to for me during my Pune days to order a “Punjabi Samosa” and get a concoction of a couple of samosas thrown open on a plate & topped with a spoonful of chickpea curry along with chopped onions ; samosas are best enjoyed on their own with a chutney (not with curry) ..similarly the aloo tikki (potato cutlet) sprinkled with some grated coconut got to my nerves big time …the same alien feeling which a hard core Maharastrian will face when served with a Delhi version of sweetish Pav-Bhaji topped with shredded paneer & almonds.I even know of a place in Delhi where they sell cashew chow mein if that makes sense to you…or a dosa filled with scrambled egg anyone?
I did not know the actual & authentic taste of Pav Bhaji until I tasted it in Pune.And it was such a hugely different from the north indian version. Pav Bhaji is a street food dish native to western part of India and is popular in most metropolitan areas in India, particularly on beaches of Mumbai & the adjoining states where the vendors make it to order.‘Pav/Pao’ is a word derided from Portuguese language meaning a small loaf of bread. ‘Bhaji’ translates to a vegetable dish in a local dialect of western India.So, Pav-Bhaji is a a spicy vegetable mash served with a couple of butter (loaded) yeasty pull apart rolls along with chopped onions, green chilies and lemon wedges. For me it’s a full meal complete with the satisfaction it brings along. The bhaji is meant to be buttery, smooth and almost pasty. You will need to buy Pav Bhaji Masala, which is a typical spice blend available in indian stores, and keeps for 1-2 years without losing its fervour.The bhaji leftovers taste completely awesome, infact I always make extra to be eaten the next day with enhanced depth of flavor. Pav once made can be stored for up to 2-3 days & you can make some indian inspired burgers with them. The dish has a typical luscious taste due to the amount of butter that goes into it, taking away the butter will also take away the authentic taste. Another thing, the style in which one must eat Pav Bhaji – with fingers & continuously licking them – trust me and try it This recipe was given to me by one of my best friend’s mom who hailed from Mumbai.Her homemade Pav Bhaji is the best I have eaten till date. Below is the replica (nearly) of her version :-
[Adapted from Taste of Home Recipes]
Ingredients:- [Makes 8-10 medium sized Pav]
- 3 cups flour (I used 1.5 cups each of all-purpose and whole wheat flour) [ You can use bread flour too]
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 2.5 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup lukewarm water (for frothing the yeast)
- 1.5 tbsp honey [ substitute with sugar or maple sugar]
- 1 – 1 1/4 cups luke warm milk (or as required for kneading the dough)
- Flour for dusting
- Melted butter for brushing on top
- If using a combination of flours, sift them once to mix thoroughly.Dissolve yeast in luke warm water mixed with honey and set aside till frothy. Note:-If you dont see foam within 30 seconds of dissolving the yeast,discard the mix & restart.
- While the yeast is frothing, in a large bowl (enough to hold doubled up dough after rise), tip in the salt.Top it up with flour, melted butter and foamy yeast paste [ in this order].
- Start mixing in lukewarm milk till everything comes together. Note :- Start with 1/2 cup of milk to begin with. Once a loose dough ball starts to come together, transfer the dough to a floured surface, and continue kneading for 5-8 minutes till you get a soft, elastic dough.While kneading , if you feel that the dough is on the dry side, add a tablespoon (s)of milk, if you feel it sticky, add some flour to bring it together.
- Brush some oil on all sides of the bowl, and once kneaded, transfer the dough back to the bowl.Brush some oil on the top of the dough ball, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm, dry place for 1-1.5 hours to rise.
- Spray your baking sheet with some cooking spray or line with parchment.
- Once risen, punch down the dough with your knuckles & knead again for 5 minutes.Divide into equal 8-10 portions of the ball size you desire.
- Next, moisten your palms with some oil, take one portion at a time and roll it up into a dough ball, tightly kneading in between your palms.Note:-Kneading between the palms creates friction which gives the rolls a great texture after baking.
- Line the dough balls side by side about 1 inch part on the baking sheet and set aside again to rise.About 20-30 minutes. After rising, the sides of the dough balls with touch each other, but dont worry, we ll bake the whole thing as a pull apart loaf.
- While the dough balls are rising, preheat your oven to 375 F /190 C.
- After the second rise, bake the dough balls for 15-18 minutes or until the top is starting to turn brown.You can use a skewer to test if they are baked from inside.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F /175 C.Take out the baking sheet, brush the pavs with some melted butter and bake for another 2-5 minutes until the top is golden. (This melted butter brushed on top gives the pavs the typical bakery “brownish” look & adds great flavor too.)
- Once baked, remove the baking sheet from oven.Let the pavs sit for 5 minutes in the baking sheet itself and then using tongs, transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Once cooled completely, store in an air tight box lined with cloth until ready to use.
- When ready to serve, serve whole (this is how I like them) as it is.Alternatively (this is traditional way of serving ), using a sharp knife, slice the balls in half and brush some more butter on the bread side and lightly brown on a hot skillet/tawa/grill.
- Serve warm with bhaji (recipe below).
- 4 tbsp canola/vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 2 tbsp each ginger & garlic, grated
- 3 Thai green chillies, finely chopped [adjust to tolerance]
- 3 medium size tomatoes finely chopped (any variety which is slightly sour)
- 2 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to tolerance)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and roughly mashed while still hot
- 1 small size cauliflower, cut into small florets , about 1 cup
- 1/2 cup green peas (fresh or frozen/thawed)
- 1/2 cup green/red/yellow/orange bell peppers, seeded & cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup finely peeled & chopped eggplant cubes
- 3 tsp Pav Bhaji Masala (the blend is quite spicy & aromatic,adjust to taste,
easily available at Indian stores, I use Everest brand) Can be made at home too but store bought totally recommended.
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice (adjust to taste)
- Salt to taste
- 1 tbsp butter to garnish
- chopped cilantro/chopped red onion /lime wedges/green chillies to garnish
- In a small pot of boiling water seasoned with salt, add the cauliflower florets and let steam for about 8 minutes or until almost tender but not mushy.(This time depends on floret size)
- After the florets are tender, add the capsicum pieces along with peas and let cook for another 2 minutes until softened.Using a strainer, take out all the vegetables and set aside to cool.To the same water add the eggplant cubes and let steam for about 5-8 minutes until tender. Drain in a separate bowl and set aside.Reserve the water used for boiling.
- While the vegetables are boiling, heat the oil on high in a heavy bottomed pan/kadhai.
- When the oil has heated, add the chopped onions and cook till the onions are transculent, about 5-7 minutes.
- Next, add the ginger & garlic and saute for 30 seconds till you smell the aroma.
- Next, add the tomatoes along with red chilli, coriander and turmeric powder.Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the tomatoes & spices and till you see oil separating at the sides of the pan.About 5 minutes.
- Next add all the steamed vegetables except the peas & mashed potatoes to the pan and mix well to combine.Let cook for about 3 minutes.
- Next, using a masher, mash all the vegetables depending on how chunky you like them.
- Add the mashed potatoes and whole peas along with garam masala, pav bhaji masala and salt to taste.Mix up everything to combine well.Note:- I like to keep peas whole, if you want you can mash them too,
- Now, depending how how thick/thin you want your mash, add the reserved water to the pan. As the mash will cook, it will thicken.
- Combine everything and let cook for another 5 minutes on medium till you see small, oily bubbles on the surface & smell an extremely delicious aroma.
- At this point, put the heat off and top with some lemon juice.
- Before serving, add a dollop of butter, chopped red onions, lemon wedges and cilantro to the bhaji and serve warm with pavs (recipe above)