Have You Tried Mumbai's Black Pav Bhaji Yet?
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After the Vada Pav, Pav Bhaji is probably the most iconic Mumbai street food. From being a specialty served at Mumbai’s Chowpatty to now being available in every corner of the city, the Pav Bhaji is popular across age groups. The spicy gravy of the Pav Bhaji is usually made with boiled potatoes, onions, capsicum, green peas and lots of tomatoes all mashed together. The homestyle version sometimes includes other vegetables such as cauliflower and carrots too. The taste though tends to differ as per the vegetables added. There are contradicting versions of the origin of the Pav Bhaji. 

Video courtesy: FOOD COUTURE by Chetna Patel

Some experts believe that the dish was first invented in the 1800s when mill workers in Mumbai were under the stress of the American Civil War. The workers were forced to work long hours to fulfill the unprecedented demand for cotton and textiles. The workload left them no time to eat. They needed a quick meal that was both filling and nutritious enough to give them the required energy. That’s when street vendors came up with the recipe for this dish that was essentially made using leftover vegetables and curry powder. The dish was easy to eat and delicious. 

However, others believe that this dish was invented when India was under Portuguese rule and was inspired by a Portuguese dish that is made using a combination of different vegetables.

Getting The Ingredients Right

The spice blend or Pav Bhaji masala is an important ingredient in this dish. It is the spice mix that is added to the mashed vegetable and gives it both taste and aroma. While there are various packaged versions of this masala available in the market, it can also be made at home by roasting and grinding coriander seeds, cumin seeds, bay leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, pepper, fennel seeds, Kashmiri red chilies, turmeric powder and dry mango powder together, in the right proportions.

Over the years the Pav Bhaji has undergone many changes. Its newest avatars include versions served with butter, cheese, or garlic. There are also varieties such as Jain Pav Bhaji which is cooked without onions, potato, or garlic. There’s Paneer Pav Bhaji which includes chunks of paneer (Indian cottage cheese) along with the regular vegetables, Mushroom Pav Bhaji where mushroom is added, Special Pav Bhaji which includes dry fruits, Kolhapuri Pav Bhaji which is a spicier version influenced by Kolhapuri cuisine, known for its fiery flavours. 

Another popular version is the Khada Pav Bhaji. This variety has a unique texture. Khada means whole in Hindi. In this version, the vegetables are not mashed completely but left in a chunky form which makes it taste different too. In the last decade or so another version of the original Pav Bhaji has emerged. This dish is called the Black Pav Bhaji.

What is the Black Pav Bhaji?

To make the Black Pav Bhaji spices such as star anise or black-stone flower are roasted along with the regular spices on medium flame. The spices are not to be burnt. They can then be ground along with black pepper powder. Apart from this dry, grated coconut needs to be roasted on a medium flame till it is lightly charred. This is your black pav bhaji masala.The charred coconut gives the bhaji a dark colour.

The Black Pav Bhaji got noticed because of its unique colour and robust flavours. It is an interesting innovation and soon became popular amongst flood bloggers, Youtubers, and social media influencers.

Where to find the Black Pav Bhaji in Mumbai 

With its growing popularity, the Black Pav Bhaji is becoming easier to access. While there are multiple places in Mumbai that serve the Black Pav Bhaji, some of the most popular ones include Maruti in Vile Parle which shot to fame because of its Black Pav Bhaji and it is so popular that if you are at Bajaj Road in Vile Parle most locals will be able to point you to the eatery. 

Apart from Maruti, Cannon Pav Bhaji is one of the oldest and most popular pav bhaji joints in Mumbai, located near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) and the BMC headquarters and Maa Anjani Pav Bhaji Center in Borivali also offers the Black Pav Bhaji.