Vada Pav: The Mumbai Potato Sandwich You Should Know

If you want to start your day with a satisfying snack that is sure to give you an instant energy boost, do we have the sandwich for you. Get ready to meet the carb-laden vada pav, a beloved street food with origins in the heart of Mumbai. Whether you're vegetarian or simply appreciate biting into a burger-like meal, vada pav makes for a convenient, easy treat. And if you like potatoes — especially fried potatoes, with that unmistakable crunchy exterior, or can appreciate a solid mashed potato rolls recipe – hold onto your seat.

Thanks to one entrepreneurial Indian man, vada pav has taken over not only the world of street food, but has made its way into high-end establishments. According to Times of India, the fried potato sandwich was first sold out of a stall outside a busy train station in the 1960s. One day, the proprietor of the stall, Ashok Vaidya, began to experiment with placing fried potato mash (vada) inside bread rolls called pav, smearing chutney on top, and serving the creation to commuters. It became a hit snack as it could be easily transported, eaten, and best of all, Vaidya sold the sandwich for an affordable price.

What is vada pav?

Imagine a crispy fried potato the size of your fist smashed into a toasted white burger bun and you have the general idea of vada pav. And yet, it is so much more. According to Tampa Indian Food, vada is "a category of savoury [sp] fried snacks from India and Sri Lanka." In this case, vada refers to the crispy potato patties, which are often mixed with spices, chiles, and onions before they are dunked into chickpea batter and deep fried to perfection (via Times of India). The reason why the fluffy bakery bun is called pav, however, is a bit hazy. According to the Decan Herald, one theory is that the buns are bought in groups of four, and pav means one-fourth in Marathi.

SBS asserts that condiments like achar and chutneys are equally as important to the sandwich. Some of the more common spreads are made up of mint, coriander, garlic, tamarind, and coconut, and many sandwiches are served with pieces of green chili on the side.

How is vada pav made?

Though making the potato patty is an obvious element in preparing the sandwich, be prepared to spend the bulk of your time blending up chutneys to serve with the snack. If you're pressed for time, Cook with Manali suggests passing on the green and sweet chutneys and homemade ketchup. Instead, focus your efforts on blending up a garlic chutney to slather onto the sandwich. "It's what makes the vada pav in my opinion," she says. Alternatively, you can make some of the chutneys in advance and store them in the fridge. 

Once the chutneys are good to go, it's time to make the potato mixture. You'll first need to boil potatoes, mash them, and add your desired spices. You could model your spice mix after Food & Wine's vada pav recipe, which includes mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafetida, curry leaves, turmeric, and more. Once the mash is seasoned, form it into balls and roll it in chickpea batter. Only then will these delicious creations be ready to be placed into oil and deep fried.

What does vada pav taste like?

This is where vada pav really gets interesting. The BBC recognizes vada pav will taste different from cook to cook. The spices used, the sauces, any extra toppings added — all of these elements will change the ultimate flavor of the sandwich. The only guaranteed element is the texture. The soft, doughy pav is a reliable constant, as well as the fried crispness of the vada.

Depending on the chutneys used, be prepared for some spiciness to hit your tongue. If garlic and chili notes aren't your thing, you can ask for vada pav served with chutney on the side, and be sure to order a hot cup of coffee or tea with your sandwich (via Dassana's Veg Recipes). That sweetness can help offset any heat from your carb-loaded snack. As Yummy Tummy Aarthi explains, vada pav can be served at breakfast, lunch, or dinner alongside another delicious Indian dish, or as a mid-day pick-me-up. Remember, you can fill your vada pav with any toppings of your choosing.

Where to buy vada pav

Though vada pav's origins are from street sellers, diners can now find the sandwich — or some form of the recipe — in high-end dining establishments. Yet, as the BBC reports, many claim sandwiches from original vada pav stalls cannot be replicated or replaced, and commuters continue to order these snacks before they board local trains.

However, that doesn't stop restaurants from elevating this classic street food. In Dubai, the potato patty is decorated with 22-karat gold (via First Post). To elevate it even further, the vada pav at O'Pao's restaurant is made with French truffle butter and cheese, served with sweet potato fries, and the traditional swab of chutney is replaced with mint mayonnaise.

In 2020, Bloomberg listed the vada pav from Swati Snacks in Mumbai as one of the world's best burgers, which is quite a feat for a meatless sandwich. The list was compiled by highly acclaimed chefs, some of which have Michelin stars, so they know a great burger when they eat one.

Nutritional information about vada pav

Times Foodie acknowledges vada pav in its original form isn't exactly a health food, but there are ways to make the snack a bit more nutritious. Stretchy pav bread is made of refined flour, but multigrain and whole wheat pav can now be found in markets. While the healthier bread varieties don't have the same texture as the original white bread, they do contain a bit more fiber and micronutrients. Sure, pav might not be a healthy recipe to enjoy daily, but the occasional indulgence can be offset with other lifestyle choices.

Additionally, Cult.Fit recommends cooking potato patties over a low flame in a non-stick pan and avoiding the deep-frying process to cut back on oils and create a recipe that has fewer calories and fat. When prepared in this way, however, the sandwich should be served immediately to maximize both taste and texture of the spicy potato fillings.

Other varieties of vada pav

For those with different flavor preferences, the vada pav has paved the way for other sandwich variations. DNA India describes one version made with mashed raw banana instead of potatoes. The site also mentions a variation that is topped with spicy schezuan sauce and another that is coated in breadcrumbs and topped with shredded cabbage, tomatoes, and vegan mayo. Vada pav variations filled with melted cheese or spiced with masala have also found fans, according to Curly Tales. And for those wanting to try a completely different presentation style, vada pav can be served in a salad, "inside out," inside a steamed bao bun, placed into a wrap, or served sizzling on a platter fajita-style (per Little Black Book).

For the vada pav purists, we see you, and we have good news. The original vada pav creator's son left his own career in fashion to run his late father's vada pav business and now stands in the same spot, at the same train station, where his father first placed vada into pav (via Times of India). Carry on, good man!