Dr Gitartha Roymedhi
If you are in Mumbai, you cannot skip the street food there. The life of the people in Mumbai starts with catching a local train in the morning and ends with coming out of a railway station. People often want something that can be grabbed and eaten while walking, travelling or working. Keeping this in mind, a snack was introduced to fulfill the people’s needs, and thus, the vada pav was introduced near the Dadar station in Mumbai. Vada means fried patty and pav means bread. The concept is the same as a burger or a hot dog, but the taste is as per the need of the Indian palate. The vada pav, often served with fried chillies, costs anything between Rs 5 and Rs 10.
The credit for inventing the mouthwatering dish goes to an entrepreneur named Ashok Vaidya. In the 1960s, Balasaheb Thackeray appealed to Maharashtrians to become entrepreneurs the way South Indians had done by setting up Udupi restaurants. This inspired Vaidya to set up a stall outside Dadar station in 1966, through which hundreds and thousands of people passed every day. He began selling vada and poha alongside a stall that sold omelette pav. As he always wanted to introduce something new, tasty and cheaper for Mumbaikars, he experimented by placing a vada in between two pavs, along with some chutney to add more flavour. The result of the experiment – the vada pav – became an instant hit in no time. Interestingly, August 23 is observed as World Vada Pav Day to celebrate Maharashtra’s favourite snack.
The 1970s and 80s were tumultuous times with numerous strikes that eventually led to the closing of many textile mills in Maharashtra. Encouraged by Balasaheb Thackeray and the Shiv Sena activists, the former mill workers opened vada pav stalls of their own in various locations. The business and popularity of vada pav made it the go-to snack for the working class.
Apart from Maharashtra, the vada pav has been introduced in other states as well as countries. In 2000, Mumbai-based entrepreneur, Dheeraj Gupta, foreseeing an economic opportunity, opened a vada pav chain named Jumbo King. He advertised it as the “Indian burger” which eventually led to Jumbo King opening 75 outlets in Mumbai alone, with each selling more than 500 vada pavs every day. Today, a range of different vada pav chains have opened all over India. In 2015, film director Aalambayan Siddharth made a five-minute documentary movie Vada Pav Inc., which threw light on Ashok Vaidya and his journey as the creator of the vada pav. On July 6, 1998, Ashok Vaidya passed away at the age of 58. His invention, the vada pav, brought all of Maharashtra together and blurred many lines of divide.
In the 1990s, McDonald’s had reached India and started expanding rapidly, but, it could not take over Maharashtra’s obsession for the vada pav.