I’ve gotten sick from a lot of Indian street food in my life. I usually wait (if at all possible) until the tail-end of my trips to India, so if something does goes awry at least I don’t miss out on the good stuff. Speaking of the good stuff, there’s an item on many menus that you’re skipping over — some of the most authentic street food India has to offer, adapted to restaurant tastes. Pav bhaji — pronounced pow-BAH-jee — is a velvety mix of masala-spiced mashed vegetables and potatoes stuffed into a warm, butter-slathered bun. I love the way the grease immediately seeps through the torn-out page of a Hindi magazine, which serves as both plate and napkin, imparting a near-transparent shine. And when eaten stateside you won’t suffer Delhi Belly, which is nice.
Walk along the major streets of any Indian city (I’m partial to Mumbai, where the dish originates), and stop at the guy with a pile of buttery, slider-sized buns and a vat or flat-top stove full of curry. What’s in there, you ask? The bhaji, of course, which means “vegetable dish,” in its most general sense. Pav comes from the Portuguese pão, for bread. The tasty mash contains potatoes, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, garlic, peas, carrots and cauliflower, seasoned with cilantro, a spice blend used just for this dish, and topped with even more butter. Yes, even street food in India gets its own masala.
Throw the pav bhaji wallah the equivalent of about $0.40 for this portable snack and experience a wave of delicious butter from some of the happiest cows on the planet (they are holy, after all), rendering all those healthy vegetables delightfully unhealthy in the best possible way.
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