Pav bhaji

Chalking up five years in Auckland’s Sandringham I should probably be more fluent in Indian eatery menus. There are 15 or so South Asian outlets within the main village shops, with an ongoing dance of new arrivals and extensions.

Shoppers from all over the city come for bulk cooking supplies or specialist ingredients or prepared curries from stores and kitchens.

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Across these spots is a trove of chaat, the broad term for savoury Indian snacks, incorporating an extensive flavour and texture range including crunchy, spicy, salty, sweet and sour.

As BonAppetit.com say about chaat – it’s for anytime, “…Light enough to be eaten for breakfast or as an afternoon snack, but satisfying enough to take the place of lunch or dinner. Plus, you can find it anywhere there’s Indian food—it’s even for sale in the back of many Indian grocery stores.”

Almost every store in Sandringham has a cabinet or bowl of something to eat on the go, and many eateries specialise in canteen-style hot dishes.

Our first spotlight is on the snack pav bhaji, one of several popular dishes using white Western-style bread (also see vada pav).

Pav bhaji

I first came across pav bhaji in Meera Sodha’s Made in India, a cookbook of fresh Indian inspired recipes from a British cook of Asian heritage.

It is a dish of masala-simmered vegetables (potato, cauliflower and eggplant particularly) that are mashed to create the bhaji, served with a large piece of melting butter. This is mopped up by soft white buns (the ‘pav’) and eaten with fresh coriander and red onion. I followed Meera’s recipe here (although I went a bit lighter on the tomato component, so it’s not so red).

India’s range of culinary influences is extraordinary, and it was the Portugese who brought white leavened bread to India in the 1600s. With a committed Catholic population who required bread for Mass, they went to great lengths to make bread in a country where this was very difficult, according to Lizzie Collingham in ‘Curry’. The unavailability of yeast meant they used toddy to achieve a rise.

Pav bhaji (‘pav’ comes from the Portugese ‘pao’) was a street food served at stalls for textile mill workers in Mumbai from the 1850s.

There are debates over what kind of bread should be used – it seems enriched with more butter is popular. And speaking of butter, it should be Amul, the favourite Indian brand famous for its regular satirical cartoons of Indian and international affairs. (You can get this at Spice Supermarket).

Where to order Pav Bhaji in Auckland 

Mumbai Chaat, 1 Kitchener St, Sandringham
Just off Sandringham Road roughly opposite the new Lord Kitchener pub, this offers a full range of Mumbai street food cooked by a family hailing from Mumbai.

Saattveek, 570 Sandringham Road, Sandringham
The light blue restaurant on the corner of Calgary St, this has a range of snacks and dishes from Maharashtra, the 120-million-population province that Mumbai is part of. (I love this recommendation of Saattveek on a blog called maharashtrianrestaurants.com – where the sole NZ review sits alongside dozens from India).

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