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The advent of the monsoon may mean different things to different people around the country, but here in Pune, the event immediately calls for the long-standing rainy day tradition of heading to the nearest kiosk and enjoying a vada pav with a cutting glass of adrak chai. Out here, the first downpour of the season is pretty much synonymous with the deep-fried potato fritter nestled between white bread – there is just something about the cool winds and the petrichor emanating from the rain-kissed earth that instantly induces this particular craving.
And while the age-old recipe is plenty delightful on its own, the city also plays home to a variety of rather innovative spins on the beloved desi munchie. The Wow – Vada Pav and More chain, for instance, offers a dizzying array of vada pavs ranging from a spicy schezwan one to a mellow mayonnaise variety. My pick from the menu is the one with corn and spinach that lend an extra crunch and a burst of nutrition to the dish.
Assimilating the humble vada pav into the ‘gourmet cuisine’ genre is The K Factory, offering a batter-fried potato chilli vada stuffed with oodles of sticky mozzarella, served with a unique curry leaf and garlic-dusted bread, and some tamarind chutney and fried chillies on the side. Possibly the classiest way to eat a vada pav, this!
If you want a healthy rendition of the typically greasy street food, try the baked vada pav at Sin City Cakes & Bakes. Here, the spiced potato mixture is stuffed (sans the besan flour) into a multigrain bun (instead of the pav which, according to the chef, has a dreadfully dry texture) and baked fresh in an oven. This results in a warm, fluffy, wholesome vada pav that does not taste like sin.
At Café F5, the tiny snacker comes with a carnivorous twist. Interestingly, this one looks exactly like the regular version, but is starkly different in terms of taste once you sink your teeth into it. There is no mashed potato; instead, the ubiquitous gram flour coating packs an unusual filling of diced chicken sautéed with gooey cheese, herbs and a light sprinkling of the classic spices such as garlic and asafoetida – making for a deceptively lip-smacking fusion! They also dish out a vegetarian option featuring soft cubes of paneer.
The Urban Foundry marries the culinary magic of bacon with the ever-dependable scrumptiousness of vada pav. So you have crisp-fried, fatty pork bits crammed inside the potato mass, which also seems to be fried in a splash of bacon fat, causing the smoky, salty juices to get soaked up by the patty, baconising the vada pave into meaty submission.
When the owners of Dravidas Bistro moved from Coimbatore to Pune, they were fascinated by the city’s collective love for this simple street cart invention that was so uncannily reminiscent of the fierce adulation the ‘vegetable cutlet’ sold in roadside shacks back home commanded. Subsequently, they decided to include a South Indian take on the vada pav on their menu as a doff to their roots. So the ‘vada’ here contains veggies in addition to the taters, making it a less starchy and more nutritious rendition of the savoury dumpling; instead of green chillies, it comes accompanied by some tangy-spicy chilli pickle.
Finally, new-on-the-block Bar Bar coverts vada pav into popcorn (!) by making a multitude of adorably reduced portions of vadas and toasted mini-buns that are tossed along with thhecha and green chillies and filled into a typical paper bag to be popped into the mouth like tiny, bite-sized nibbles.
We at Eazydiner feel privileged to have worked with someone like Mrunmayi who was an independent writer with over five years of experience in arts and lifestyle journalism. She had worked with several print and online publications based out of Pune and Goa. In the realm of food, she had contributed reviews, topical stories and long features primarily to Pune Mirror, The Goan, Planet-Goa, and the website goa.me. A foodie with an eclectic taste, she enjoyed a well-prepared spread of English Breakfast as much as some fiery Kolhapuri mutton curry.