Of exams, holidays, train journeys and small town kids in a BIG city!

vada pav vada pav

“And what would you like to order, ma’am?”

“Please may I see the syllabus?”


“Could I look at the syllabus before ordering?”

“Errr… sorry ma’am, would you be wanting the menu, by any chance?”

“Ooop, sorry!! That’s what I meant”!! says the harried mom of three children who’s dropped them off at school for their exams and decided to treat herself to a cup of coffee not made by herself!

Exam season is on all over India and parents are a harried lot… what with managing syllabi, ‘combined’ studies, worrying about the kids’ emotional state, ‘healthy food’, no eating out in case the kid falls sick before the exam, no movies, no TV time, no more games of cards or scrabble, no more… anything that seems to make life worth living!

I hark back to a time when exams were just one more of those mild disturbances (if at all!) in the lives of most parents and children, a little obstacle to go through before the serious business of “going to my native” (the cutest of all Indish phrases!) for two glorious months of summer holidays!

We were those deprived, completely citified sad three kids who – get this – did not even have a “native” to go to!! Honestly, what were the parents thinking, right??! Instead we went away to places like Madras, Bombay and Vizag to stay with other aunts and uncles for the summer – the holidays were superb, with loads of food, loads more cousins to play with and so on… but no village well to swim in (how could a mere swimming pool offer competition to swimming in the village well with moss and frogs and sundry other alive things for company?!)

One holiday to Bombay – our first to the metro, in fact, was memorable for the very first time that we saw buildings that were over two storeys high! Growing up in small town Hyderabad, though it was supposed to be one of the largest cities in India, we’d never seen a multi-storeyed building in our lives – and Bombay was full of these! Why, even my aunt and uncle lived in a five or six storeyed apartment block, for heaven’s sake! As for downtown Bombay, the business district, I swear I got a crick in my neck from walking around staring up into the sky at all the buildings! And local trains to go around in – these were a shock – in my ten-year old opinion, trains were meant for long journeys, trains meant you got down dirty as a chimney sweep from the coal dust that flew back from the steam engines of those days! So to get into a train for a half an hour ride, stressed the daylights out of me! And I felt I needed a bath, though I’d just had one!

This was also the year of the great Railway General Strike in India, when the railways were shut down for a whole month! And so there we were, stranded with no means to go back – flying was out of the question – only very rich people flew – like the Tatas and the Birlas and so on! The rest of India – train-ed! My poor aunt and uncle had quite a job keeping three young nieces and nephews entertained for the summer along with their own two children – our cousins. Luckily, this was also the summer of the great carrom craze… the game would begin almost before we’d brushed our teeth in the morning, baths would be had only under threat of dire consequences… and the game went on till late into the night…

Harried or not, distracted or not, mealtimes were the one thing for which no second call was needed… my aunt – Ambi – was a superb cook – genes that her daughter Aparna has inherited in full force and then some!

Most meals at home were South Indian, but I do remember the first time that we bit into a vada pav – I thought I’d died and gone straight to Vaikuntham (we were BIG fans of Amar Chitra Katha!)

Even today, vada pav – that quintessential Bombay street food – high in all the wrong things – fat, starch and so on – is still an indulgence worth a whole week’s dieting!


  • Pav buns – 4 – 6
  • Butter – LOTS! Well, about 30 gms will do at a pinch!
  • Red garlic chutney – see below – 1 measure
  • Green chutney – see below – 1 measure 
  • Vadas – 8-12 – see below
  • Fried green chilies – optional – 4-6

For the vadas 

  • Boiled Potatoes – 4 medium sized
  • Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Green chili – 1 – minced
  • Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Ginger garlic paste – 1/2 tsp
  • Onion – 1 medium – minced
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt
  • Urad dal– 1/2 tsp
  • Coriander leaves – 2 tsp
  • Oil – 2 tsp

Heat oil, add mustard seeds, urad dal and jeera, allow it to splutter.

Add green chillies, ginger garlic paste and fry for a minute. Add onions and fry till golden brown.

Then add mashed potatoes, turmeric and chili powders, salt and mix well.

Add chopped coriander leaves, mix well and switch off. Allow it to cool, squeeze the lime over and make small balls. Set aside.

For the dipping batter

  • Besan/chickpea flour– 1 cup
  • Rice flour – 1 tbsp
  • Chilli powder – 1/2 tsp or more
  • Salt – to taste
  • Baking soda – a pinch
  • Oil – to toast/deep fry

Mix all these together with enough water to make a thick dipping batter. Dip the potato balls in it and deep fry in hot oil till a deep golden brown – vada colour would describe it perfectly!

Red garlic chutney

  • 6 -8 garlic cloves – dry roast till slightly yellow
  • 1/2 cup grated dry coconut – dry roast till golden yellow
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds – dry roast till they pop.
  • 1 tablespoon roasted peanuts
  • 2 teaspoons red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dhania/coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon tamarind paste
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • Salt

Grind everything together without adding any water till you get a powdery dry chutney.

Green chutney

  • Mint leaves – 1 cup
  • Fresh coriander – 1/2 cup
  • Green chilies – 1
  • Ginger – 1 cm piece
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Sugar – 1 tsp
  • Garlic – 2 cloves
  • Cucumber – 1/2 medium size – chunk
  • Chaat masala or pani puri masala – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt – 1/2 tsp

Grind everything together to a chutney.

To assemble:

Heat a pan with a little butter. Halve the pav buns and slather them with butter. Toast on the tava till golden brown and crisp. Spread the green chutney on one side and red chutney on the other. Sandwich two vadas between each pav bun. If you like the heat, add fried green chilies – 1 or 2 in each vada pav!

For the best vada pavs, you do need to take the train to Bombay though!