Back in the days when I was living in Pune, one of the default things to do on a Sunday afternoon was to head down to a street food hawker on Aundh Road at around 3:30 PM and enjoy a freshly made wada-paav, two cups of extra sweet chai – one to wash the wada pav and the other to savour with the Gold Flake. This was a routine which went undisturbed if we were in town – rain or shine.
Wada-paav is extremely popular in the Western part of Maharashtra – esp in Bombay and Pune. It evolved and became popular as the working man’s food. It is usually sold on small thelas – a make-shift table on wheels: the kind like hot dog stands. These thelas can be spotted at busy street corners, railway stations, bus stops, parks, outside cinema halls, outside Government office buildings – they have become a part of the street decor. A popular wada-paav seller sells his stock within a couple of hours of opening and making the wadas (it usually coincides with the time people leave offices but its not the rule). The working class lines up for their daily hit of the deep fried oily wada-paavs. The wada is made of a mixture of cooked potatoes mashed in fried onions with salt and other spices. This mixture is then dipped in a paste of gram flour which is mixed with water and made into burger style patties. These patties are then deep fried in peanut oil until dark brown. The wada is then placed on an open paav (a paav is like a hamburger bun except much smaller) with garlic chutney sprinkled on one side of the paav and the cilantro-green chutney on the other (these chutneys vary from city to city, street corner to street corner). Usually the paper plates on which this is served is nothing but a 8 inch by inch torn piece of an old newspaper (makes for some interesting reading after you have finished eating the wada-paav). One important accompaniement which is served on the side is lightly fried green chillies, which leave oily stains on the newspaper plates – sometimes in very strategic places, ensuing hilarity.
The most common beverage with the wada-paav is hot chai. Yes, even in 100F temperatures, you will see people eating the hot and spicy wada-paav and sipping on hot chai.
Today “A” decided to take me back and help me experience that mildly spicy, warm, oily flavor of deeply fried potato and gram flour wada. The result was 8/10. The wada paav came out perfect taste wise – mildly tangy because of the green chutney of cilantro and green chillies, the occassional sharp taste of garlic from the slight dash of the garlic chutney, the warm mildly spicy wada with the crisp slightly burnt onions and the side of sauted green chilly. The chai on the side was also perfect, sweet and milky. The ensemble was perfect.
As soon as I bit into the warm wada-paav, and the fried-lightly-salted green chilly, I was there on Aundh Road. The wada was hot enough to be chewed comfortably without burning my mouth and spicy enough to feel the heat when it settled in my stomach. The hot sweet tea was only accentuating the many flavors. “A” brought the house down on this one. Wada-paav can be hardly considered cuisine – but it takes just the right amount of everything to make it taste the way it does on those thelas.
Why then you would ask, I gave “A” 8 out of 10? One point was deducted for the absence of the Gold Flake cigarette and the other point was deducted for the lack of the smell of the fumes from the exhausts of the hundreds of vehicles passing by while you enjoy this unique dish. I must say the cigarette smoke combined with the exhaust fumes complete the experience. For this Sunday, I will have to do without them.