x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Food obsession: vada pav

A potato patty gets deep-fried, cuddled between milky soft buns, painted with sweet-salty chutneys, and served up as the beloved Mumbai-style vada pav in an alleyway of Meena Bazaar.

Vada pav. Courtesy Arva Ahmed
Vada pav. Courtesy Arva Ahmed

Let me tell you how something I recently ate cast such a spell over my taste buds, my stomach and my mind that I slammed my face right into the restaurant’s glass door on the way out.

I stepped into Bombay Se (04 359 9411),  at the back of an alley that is but a thin strand in the massive pile of Indian stores around the back of Dubai creek. My order was a Dh4 vada pav – a Mumbai street snack that is nothing more complex than a milky, soft bun visibly choking with a piping-hot, deep-fried, oversized potato patty.

The patty was encrusted with a crisp gram-flour skin that ruptured to reveal soft, creamy mashed potatoes flecked with tempered mustard seeds and other invisible, but potent, lip-singeing masalas.

The lower half of the pav (pronounced “pah-o”) had been painted with two chutneys – a sweet coriander paste and another orange-brown chutney that tasted like the addictive, crunchy residue of a near-empty packet of crisps.

Mysterious chutneys such as the powdery orange-brown one rarely go unnoticed at my lunch table.

The host grumpily threw a hint my way to silence my incessant questioning.

“Garlic,” he muttered. “And two or three other things.” Then he clasped his mouth shut with a firmness that no bribe could pry open again.

I’ve since learnt that the typical sukka (dry) vada pav chutney may contain coconut, chilli powder and, often, ground peanuts and sesame seeds, but it’s the hefty handful of garlic that dominates the flavour.

Should you be wondering how my nose is after the glass-door incident, let me assure you that it is back in action and ready to take in the aroma of chutney in a vada pav again.

Arva Ahmed founded Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com), taking people on tours through hidden culinary gems in Dubai