Here's How Our Humble  Pav Evolved In Mumbai Over The Years
Image Credit: Vada Pav | Image Credit:

Mumbai thrives on contradictions. Life can run at a chaotic pace with people rushing through the day, yet laidback, relaxed and very comforting when the same people congregate at a friend’s house or grab a drink on the weekend with friends. It is a city of extremities in success, yet it is the one city in India that is not unfeeling or exclusivist. This has allowed several cultures to co-exist and even share space and tastes. Different types of cuisines from influences as far off as the Portuguese, French, British, and multiple Indian regions have made a place for themselves here. 

Take Mumbai’s favorite food - the soft, fluffy pav that goes well with bhaji, vada, and misal. Pav has an interesting story of its own, from European origins to a firm foundation as the food of the common people in Mumbai. So, let's delve deeper and get to know about the humble Mumbai pav. 

Pav came to India all the way from Portugal, making landfall in Goa before finding its way to Bombay. There are quite a few theories behind the origin of its name. One claims that the pav came as a set of four because, in Marathi, pav means one-fourth or one-quarter. Another theory says that the name pav refers to the way the bread was kneaded with the feet or ‘paon’. But most experts agree that the word pav comes from the Portuguese word for bread - ‘pão’. 

It’s no secret that the history of bread-making in Mumbai goes back to the time when the Portuguese ruled Mumbai in the 19th century. An economic crisis caused the Goans, Portuguese priests, and administrators to leave the city and move out of the Bombay fort towards the northern areas. These areas were inhabited by Indian converts who were mostly Roman Catholic by faith. These Indo-Portuguese depended on the pav as a daily necessity and the Goans had the bread-making rights till the end of the 19th century before the Iranis entered the scene. 

At the start of the 20th century, migrant from the Yazd and Kerman provinces in Iran made their way to Mumbai. They started bakeries and restaurants like the iconic Kyani, Bastani, Sassanian, B Merwan, and Yazdani. The new bakeries had their own woodfire ovens that churned out pavs, breads, and biscuits in larger numbers. This bread was affordable and, in the busy life of Mumbai, it proved a quick and adaptable food item. 

The humble pav evolved rapidly and became part of the much-loved street food in Mumbai and beyond. Vada Pav takes the center stage among all of Mumbai’s pav ventures. This is essentially a spicy, Indian-style potato patty tossed into a bread. The patty contains all the goodness of a spicy masala potato curry seasoned with spices such as jeera (cumin), curry leaves, and mustard seeds. This patty is then sandwiched in between a pav and served hot to people flocking to the food stalls.  

Pav Bhaji is another dish from Mumbai that has won the hearts of Indians everywhere. This dish was originally made for textile workers working in the mills as a quick and wholesome option. The bhaji is a mélange of different vegetables cooked in a rich tomato gravy with butter and special pav bhaji masala. It is garnished with chopped coriander leaves and lemon slices, then served with pavs that are lightly toasted with butter.

MisalPav is a very popular dish in Maharashtra and Goa. The Misal is made from tasty and wholesome sprouts that are cooked with tomatoes and onion in gravy, and later garnished with coconut powder, spices, potato, and chivda. This gravy is served hot with pavs, making fora splendid, and popular, breakfast, or as an evening snack.  

Dabeli is a popular street food from Gujarat. It is India’s answer to the western burger and is available in many parts of the country. The pavs are stuffed with a sweet-and-spicy potato mixture and garnished with raw onions, pomegranate, and sev. Dabeli can be served as a teatime snack or at a birthday party with some delicious Sev Puri and Dahi Bhalla.  

This unassuming bread called Pav is the quintessence of street food in Mumbai – great food prepared quickly for a city that’s constantly on the move, and is loved by people across different strata of society. Typical of Mumbai, this low-cost, delicious bread roll from elsewhere has come a long way and is now recognized as an integral part of the city’s culinary identity.