As many of you know, India is a country of foodies. We love our food, and we want a lot of it – if we can afford it, given the poverty levels in India. You can see it in the potbellied multitudes milling around. The constant access to tasty food is on full display in Mumbai, the city that never sleeps. The long commutes, and even longer work hours, have resulted in a strong culture of street food that one can indulge in whenever one feels peckish.
Among the many street foods associated with Mumbai, the Bhel and Pao Bhaji probably rule the roost. Bhel, for those of you who don’t know is like a tossed salad, made with puffed rice and chopped veggies including onion, boiled potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and green mango. It is then flavored with a combination of sweet and hot chutneys, lemon juice and topped with Sev (deep fried, strands of Chick Pea flour dough). Pao Bhaji, which literally means Bread and a Veggie Stew is exactly that. Pao, the quintessential Mumbai bread, similar to the square dinner rolls available in the US, is pan fried with butter and served with a spicy stew of potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, beans and basically any other vegetable that can be boiled and mashed.
Eating Bhel/Pao Bhaji is high on our eating priorities when we visit Mumbai. Usually, our family takes us out to a restaurant to indulge since our sensitive US tummies can no longer handle the hardcore Indian street food. This time though, our family surprised us, they had a Bhel maker come to my wife’s uncle’s house and prepare Bhel to our specification. The Bhel Whisperer – Yadav-ji, showed up with his wares and proceeded to set up in the kitchen. Yadav-ji, who is originally from Azamgarh in Northern India, not too far from where I grew up, underscored another distinguishing feature of Mumbai – it is the city of immigrants from all over India looking for opportunity. So, we had Mumbai street food, in a Gujarati household made by a UP immigrant, national integration indeed!