The riotous din – the mad tumble and whirl of color — the crackling visual farrago: Danny Boyle’s award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire takes us on a wild, sensory reel through the broad avenues and back alleys of the electric/historic city of Mumbai.
But while the medium of film can convey the sights and sounds of that storied metropolis long known as Bombay, it can’t express the real flavor of the city – unless your local multiplex serves bhelpuris, samosas, pakoras, ragda patties, pani puri, dahi wadas, and the many other tasty treats that can be had from Mumbai’s ‘street food’ vendors.
From the Elko Arcade, Chowpatty Beach, the Bhendi Bazaar, and Church Gate Station, the spicy aromas of freshly prepared chaats and other delights tempt shoppers, office workers, students, and travelers to stop and enjoy something deliciously diverting before rushing onward.
Of the many wonderful offerings, one of the most famous and beloved is Vada Pav (pronounced ‘wadda pow’). This iconic snack, thought to have been invented by Ashok Vaidya, a food vendor outside the Dadar train station, consists of a patty of cooked potato mashed with green chiles, ginger, and spices, then dipped in a spiced chickpea batter and deep fried. It is then served in a small, squarish Portuguese bun (‘Pav’ derives from ‘Pão’, the Portuguese word for bread) with various chutneys or other condiments.
Since its introduction more than 35 years ago, Vada Pav has become almost the street food equivalent of comfort food – a reliably delicious and sustaining meal, enjoyed by rich and poor alike.
Now Vada Pav appears to be poised to make the step from regional street food to international fast food. But not, let it be noted, because a certain international fast food giant has decided to market a “McPow!” sandwich. Rather, it’s because a young local businessman has been mining the giant’s playbook in order to create a better vision of the Pav’s deep-fried future.
Dheeraj Gupta, who founded Jumbo King Vada Pav with his wife & fellow MBA Reeta Gupta, not only studied the McDonald’s business model but it’s said that Dheeraj actually worked at a McDonald’s to get the view from the trenches. Starting with one store, they fine-tuned their operation to meet the tastes, needs, and means of their customers – an ongoing process that continues even as they’ve grown to more than 45 locations.
According to their website, “Jumbo King believes that the common man has the constitutional right to get hygienic food at an affordable price!” The somewhat antiquated tone of that mission statement may clang a bit in Western ears, but it’s undeniably sincere – and perhaps even noble. As more locations open and more franchisees sign on, Jumbo King might grow to be a fast food giant itself. And who knows? Maybe someday that other giant might learn something from them.
Please join us tomorrow to read our new recipe for Sesame Coconut Cod in Asian Taco Shells.
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