Pao-Bhaji – Mumbai’s Iconic Street-Food!

Published: October 22, 2015

Pao-Bhaji (or Pav Bhaji) is a simple potato and tomato dish, made famous on the side streets of the city that never sleeps and loves to eat out.

I can gorge on street-food anytime and my favorite is undoubtedly Pao-Bhaji. In the late 70’s when I used to work at New Marine Lines, behind the Income Tax Office, the office boy would gladly fetch Pao-Bhaji for my lunch on days I did not carry tiffin from home. This happened very often as it gave me an excuse to have this mouth-watering meal.  Those familiar with this area would have tasted this and many other delicious lunch-time options available on the lane leading to cross maidan.  The food-carts now, most certainly upgraded to food stalls.

Yes, I have survived on this ‘junk food’ as street-food is commonly labeled, which used to cost One Rupee for a regular plate (without butter).  This was the most my meagre salary of Rs.350/- a month allowed me as I inevitably had to be prudent with my personal expenses.

Pao-Bhaji now has universal appeal but since it owes it’s origins to Mumbai (Bombay in those days) I was curious to find out when it was actually introduced to the streets and by-lanes of Bombay.

According to Wikipedia, it originated in the 1850’s as a fast lunchtime dish for textile mill workers in Mumbai. Upon further research I came across an insightful article written by Aakar Patel ‘What Mumbaikars owe to the American Civil War: Pav Bhaji’.

According to him street-food can be dated to around 1840, when a group of Gujaratis began trading on Dalal Street, which became Asia’s first stock exchange a few years later. They used to trade mainly in cotton and in
the period 1861-65 due to the American Civil War, these merchants made fortunes as the price of cotton shot up due to the navy blockade in the Americas by Abraham Lincoln.  These merchants worked late in the night when rates were wired in and orders wired out at American and European times.  By then, the merchants would be quite famished and their wives would be asleep at home.  To meet their demand for regular food the traders used to be served by street stalls that invented the pao bhaji, which was quite simply all left-over vegetables of the day which were cooked in a tomato gravy and served with buttered loaves.  The loaves came from the Portuguese Jesuits, who settled in Bandra around the mid-1500’s. This demand at an unusual time created a unique supply.

You can now enjoy a good ‘pao-bhaji’ right in your home with my recipe and whip it up yourself  in your very own kitchen, ensuring the freshness of ingredients, standard of quality and it’s hygiene.

The ingredients are all simple and prepared with the least amount of spice powders. Vegetables of your choice may be added. Makes for a delicious ‘Pao-Bhaji’ greatly enjoyed by my husband and children.

Pao-Bhaji

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 to 6 medium potatoes
  • 1 tbsp. ghee
  • 4 green chillies
  • 2 inch piece ginger
  • 1 cup tomatoes
  • 2 tsp. chilli powder (Kashmiri)
  • 1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste
  • Salt
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. butter (more if you love butter like I do!)
  • 2 tsp. garam masala
  • ½ cup coriander leaves
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 6 Pao/buns/rolls
  1. Wash, boil, cool, peel and dice potatoes. Chop green chillies, ginger, tomatoes and coriander leaves. Dissolve the ginger garlic paste in 6 tbsp. of water.
  2. Heat ghee on a large tawa/kadai, add green chillies, ginger, tomatoes and sauté over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add red chilli powder and mix well.
  4. And  potatoes, reduce to low heat.
  5. With a potato masher or metal spatula simultaneously mash and stir for 5 minutes.
  6. Whilst stirring, keep sprinkling the ginger garlic water. If you wish you may add some more water to adjust the consistency of the bhaji to your liking.  Adjust seasoning.
  7. Increase to medium heat, add two-thirds of the butter and stir constantly until the butter is incorporated.
  8. Sprinkle garam masala, coriander and lemon juice, stir.
  9. To serve, apply the remaining butter on the pao-halves, place them on the tawa and grill until golden brown on both sides.
  10.  Remove the bhaji to a dish and serve with the pao.

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