Batata vada is the common food that connects all ethnic sections of the cosmopolitan Mumbai starting from Mukesh Ambani to a simple man on the street. It’s intriguing to find some popular and persistent eateries that have been serving this enduring fast food in India’s business capital. Here are a few common favorites that emerged through chats with gourmet friends.

A waiting queue greets you at Mama Kane’s Swachcha Uphargriha, on the narrow shopping lane outside Dadar railway station. Inside, tables with comfortable sofas are packed with people satiating their hunger.

Dadar, the quintessential Marathi quarter still has eateries that were started during the pre-independence era. On enquiry at the cash counter, a street vendor outside was summoned to lead us to the owner’s office upstairs. Kamalakar Kane, grandson of ‘Mama’ Kane is a 70 year old graceful man who has witnessed the hundred and three year old eatery transforming into a modern building.

Kamalakar Kane says: “I was only four when my grandfather passed away. Most of this building was developed by my father in the seventies. But I have heard stories of my grandparents sincerity in catering to hungry clients. My grandmother used to come here early morning, finish cooking here, go home and carry-on cooking at home.”

In those days, eating came out of necessity for those who travelled far away from home (mostly traders) and the choice was for a quick bite at a clean place.

Narayan Vishnu Kane, the migrant from Konkan region in Maharashtra State, started the simple eatery called Dakshini Brahmananche Swacha Uphargriha (a clean eatery of southern Brahmins) in 1910. Happy clients nicknamed the place ‘Mama (uncle) Kane’ with affection.

Mama Kane is synonymous with batata wada, spiced potato mixture coated with gram flour and deep fried. It’s the most popular snack of Mumbai. Batata is a Portuguese word for potato and is used to describe the tuber in Marathi and Konkani as well.

Kane said: “Batata vada was introduced in 1928. We get clients who have come back to savor the lingering taste from their school days.”

Mama Kane’s well known visitors in those days included Veer Savarkar, Phula Deshpande and even Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

Keeping the fried vada dry (devoid of oil) is Mama Kane’s specialty. What’s the secret?

Kane said: “Potatoes are mashed and mixed with spices and we don’t use oil or tempering. Others mostly use tempering to increase the shelf life of the vada. We rarely do that, only during summer mornings.”

The vadas are quite big and two are enough to satiate the hunger. Red chilli chutney mixed with crisply fried gram crystals is unique to the place. 200 plates (two in each) of vada are sold every day at Mama Kane. Misal (boiled whole pulses topped with pharsan) is another popular dish at this historic restaurant. A kokum sharbat (cool drink) served here is soothing after a spicy meal.

Typically, soft drinks are not served at traditional Maharashtrian eateries. Milk based drinks like piyush, masala doodh, tak (buttermilk) and tea are served to soothe the stomach after spicy fried snacks.

It’s hard to skip another historic place nearby - Bedekar Condiment House. Charuta Bedekar at the shop said that it was established in 1930 following a two decade success of V P Bedekar & Sons’ pickles, established by her father-in-law Govind Viswanath Bedekar & his five brothers. Laddu, vadya, Karanji, shankarpole, anarase, chivda, bhakar vadi and other condiments are sold here along with pickles and ready mixes.

Panshikar’s nearby is another old favorite for batata vada and misal.

Many famous personalities can be seen enjoying batata vada and piyush at Dattatreya near Sena Bhavan. Batata vada at Prakash near Shivaji Park is hot and tasty with the dry groundnut chutney. Kothimbir vadi is recommended here. The simple clean eatery is another icon popular for Maharashtrian snacks since 1972.

Crowded Sri Krishna batata wada food stall near Dadar station draws any passerby’s attention. Two crisply fried vadas are served on a paper plate with fried green chillies. Students, rail commuters and others had thronged at the place to bite into hot vadas.

When served along with pav (leavened bread typically used to stuff the vada), it becomes the vada pav, a staple food of many Mumbaikars.

If you board a local train to go to South Mumbai, another old quarter of the city you can find a few more local favorite eateries of Mumbai’s propriety snack.

The quick service window at Aram Milk Bar opposite Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus serves hot vada pav to people-on-the-go. The restaurant has a fascinating story about its name. Kaustubh Tambe, the owner said: “My grandfather Shrirang Tambe bought British Bar 73 years ago and converted it into a vegetarian restaurant. He retained the name ‘Bar’ and added ‘Milk’ to denote the milk based drinks served here.” Kanda pohe and of course batata vada are good here. There’re two more Aram’s-one at Bazaar gate, Fort Market and the other near Parel station. A fourth one is being planned for Vashi, Navi Mumbai.

Vada pav is the most popular street food available throughout the city with an estimated sale of two million pieces a day.

CTO vada pav, on the Flora Fountain side of the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) is among the most sought after street-side stalls in the city’s business district. Ashok Satam and his brothers run the forty year old eatery that serves crisp vada in pav lined with garlic chutney along with fried green chillies. Two vada pavs and a jumbo glass of sugarcane juice from the adjacent stall make an afternoon meal for many. They sell 1500 vada pavs a day.

Vada pav is sometimes called the Indian burger to compare with the internationally known dish. McDonald’s burger itself was started in 1938, ten years after Mama Kane’s batata vada. Of course, Pav came in much later. Vada pav is so popular that the Indian franchise of McDonalds is edging to bite into the big market by introducing local flavors. Hoardings of Masala grill and Mc Aloo Tikki stare at you as you pass by the streets of Mumbai in search of the modest local restaurants.

While Kane’s are satisfied with maintaining their traditional restaurant, a few local fast food chains have attempted to standardize vada pav to take it to other states. Jumbo King vada pav started in 2001 has its presence in Maharashtra and Gujarat. 40 outlets are in Mumbai alone and serve a few variations of vada pav. Goli vada pav started in 2004 has introduced cheese, vegetable, and Chinese variations in vada pav. Goli boasts of 150 stores in 40 cities across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh & Uttar Pradesh.

India produced 36.6 mn metric tons of potatoes in 2010, second biggest after China according to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Further breakdown in statistics is not available but Mumbai sure is a big consumer of potatoes and a chunk of it is through batata vadas.

Vada pav is here to stay and thanks to a few good old restaurants for letting people still enjoy traditional snacks in a modest atmosphere.

 


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