For anyone that has spent more than a few days in Bombay there is one street food that seems synonymous with this city and that is Pav Bhaji. Rick Stein described it as like Indian bubble and squeak and he’s pretty close to the mark, think fried vegetables and potatoes but with heaps of ghee (instead of lard or bacon fat like my Nan’s bubble and squeak) and a decent amount of masala spicing and green chili.
If this sounds good, it is, even though its mildly addictive and pretty much a spicy heart attack in waiting. Served in what Mumbaikars call a “Pav” or “Pao” (pronounced POW) which is basically a sweet bread roll, and for a little extra fat they generally butter them and toast them on a griddle…. Insane!
While next week’s post will deal with the spicy vegetable curry or bhaji , today’s installment is about the unique bread that is Pav or Pao. Introduced by Portuguese settlers this type of bread survived both British rule and partition and is today pretty much regarded as the daily bread of Mumbai. In fact locals swear that Pav’s are not the same anywhere outside their city, even in neighboring Goa which has even stronger Portuguese ties.
“Pav’s” are quite unlike normal bread rolls, they are slightly sweet like hamburger buns but also slightly salty. As for shape and size, they are smaller and taller than baps or burger buns, more like a hot cross bun. One big difference is a deep golden glossy top that makes them look like brioche and they even have a buttery smell. (See the image at top)
Coming home with a longing for a Pao Bhaji fix , despite the filling not posing any problems, try as I might, I couldn’t find anything close for my Pav. Some local bread rolls were approximately the same shape and size but lacked the flavor, glossy top and buttery aroma, while others were just over sweet and artificial. In the end I ended up making them myself using the following really simple recipe and as an added bonus, not only are they great for their traditional use but they also make outstanding soft dinner or breakfast rolls, I hope you enjoy them.
Bombay Style Pao (aka Pav)
500g plain flour
300ml water – luke warm
15g dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg – beaten for glazing rolls
Sift flour, then prepare a starter “sponge” by mixing a quarter of the flour with the sugar and yeast, stir in the water to form a smooth light batter, cover and leave to ferment until foaming and frothy. To this “sponge” add the remaining flour, salt and butter and knead well until silky smooth, soft and elastic. Cover and allow to double, punch down and divide into 12 equal portions and shape into small rolls. Grease baking dish and place rolls in dish leaving about 1cm all around edges and between rolls to allow for expansion Cover and allow to double again, brush with beaten egg and bake in an oven preheated to 220C for 10-12 minutes. Remove when golden on top and bottom and place on a cooling rack. Eat toasted or with butter.