Make Ahead

Mumbai 'ishtyle' Pao Bhaji

May 19, 2011
2 Ratings
  • Serves 8 regular or 6 large appetites!
Author Notes

If there ever is a classic Indian recipe that defines 'dirt cheap', this would be it. The dish originated in the streets outside the textile mills, that were a mainstay of Mumbai's manufacturing base in the 1950's. 'Blue collar' Mill workers, who could not afford having their lunch sent to them fresh or return home to eat, frequented these vendors, who would whip up a vegetable dish with whatever vegetables they could get their hands on. The veggies were cooked and mashed up thoroughly in a heavy cast iron concave griddle and served up with rustic 'pao', a Portuguese bread that has since happily domiciled itself in India even after the Portuguese rule ended.
Unlike the numerous selection of 'chaat' (palate teasing snacks, with a wonderfully complex taste & texture profile), The pao bhaji is a complete substantial meal. Not something that will send you into a hibernating state, nor will it be digested & gone within the hour, leaving behind revived hunger pangs. The curry is served with the bread, slit in the middle, toasted (nay, drowned) in salty melted butter on the same griddle & raw or pickled onions with a wedge of lime.

Pao Bhaji has come a long way. These days, this street side fare is listed on the menu's of some of the well known Indian restaurants, the world over.

The versatility of this dish can be likened to one of those cheesy TV ads advertising cars & homes even with a terrible credit rating. "Wilting head of cauliflower? NO problem, Geriatric looking carrots? Toss it in".

The flip side, one can never really make it just for one or 2 individuals. Even when using one or two of each vegetable, (try describing the recipe with terms like 1/4 of a potato, 2 florets of cauliflower, 2 inch piece of carrot!!)
It cooks up into a HUGE batch. and is sure to be a party fave and it makes for a great lunch offering the next day, even cold, straight out of the refrigerator!
The closest in taste and texture to the rustic pao in the US is the Portuguese saloio roll. Another great alternative is to serve it with sourdough roll. Please do NOT pick up one of those Pav offerings found in Indian grocery stores.

What You'll Need
  • Bhaji
  • 2 Large potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 small Cauliflower (only the florets)
  • 2-3 carrots peeled & cut into 2
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger paste
  • 1 large onion (red or white), finely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper finely diced
  • 14 ounces crushed tomatoes (appr. half a large can)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons pav Bhaji masala ( from any Indian grocery store)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1-2 cups water as needed
  • 1/2 - 1 cups finely chopped cilantro (as per taste)
  • garnishing accoutrements!
  • 8- 12 Saloio or sourdough rolls cut in the middle like a hamburger bun
  • 'pats' of salted butter (as much as needed!)
  • 1 Large red onion
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt to taste.
  • 1 lime cut into wedges
  1. Boil the potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and peas till very soft and begin to disintegrate when squeezed
  2. Drain the vegetables and mash together ( I use a pastry dough cutter, seems to work very well) thoroughly. Set aside.
  3. In a large pan ( I use a heavy bottomed wide roasting pan), heat the oil and butter till the butter has melted but not browned. Add the ginger and garlic and give a quick stir for about a minute till the garlic softens.
  4. Add the finely diced onions and stir to combine all the ingredients. Allow the onions to become soft & translucent and to lose the 'raw' smell.
  5. Add the bell pepper and saute till the pepper is cooked well (just beyond the 'crunchy' stage).
  6. Add the crushed tomatoes and the turmeric. Allow to cook till the tomatoes begin losing their 'raw' smell (~ 3-4 minutes).
  7. Add the mashed vegetables, salt and the pav bhaji spice mix. Combine thoroughly, add about a cup and a half of water and allow to cook on a medium low heat until the water is completely evaporated. Stir in cilantro, mix in and serve hot. If making in advance, transfer to a serving dish, place in a warm oven till ready to serve.
  8. To make the pickled onions, thinly slice the red onion into rings and add the lime juice and salt.
  9. On a hot griddle, drop a 'pat of butter' and let it sizzle, place the roll cut side down on the butter. Swirl the roll to absorb all the butter and allow the cut side to crisp ever so slightly.
  10. To serve: Ladle some bhaji onto a plate, top with a generous 'pat' of salted butter. (decadent, but can be optional if you're health conscious!) Serve with the toasted rolls, pickled onions and a wedge of lime.
  11. Alternatively, brush thin slices of a sour dough baguette with melted salted butter, toast in an oven till slightly golden, top with a spoonful of the bhaji. Garnish with bits of pickled onions and serve as an appetizer. Just don't ask me how many servings that will make! Neither I nor my guests have counted, I just make it till I run out of either bread or bhaji!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
  • Panfusine
  • ichibanbrianne
A biomedical engineer/ neuroscientist by training, currently a mommy blogger on a quest for all things food - Indian Palate, Global perspective!

7 Reviews

AntoniaJames January 13, 2012
Made this last night, using homemade masala. Delicious! To quote one family member, "These veggies are really good!!" Even better for lunch today. I subbed sumac for the green mango powder in the recipe you recommended. I probably would use less next time. It was tart! Had string beans and two turnips on hand. Used them, along with a carrot cut up, and the cauliflower called for, but not the potato or peas. Have plenty of masala left over. Looking forward to making this again! I'll post to the Hotline as well, later on. Thanks for another excellent recipe!! ;o)
Panfusine January 13, 2012
Wonderful to hear that you liked the dish AJ, thanks so much. The Essence of Pav bhaji is to use up whatever is on hand & turnips wd have been perfect! Thanks again!
Panfusine May 27, 2011
Bhaji (pronounced as 'bhaaji') is the generic marathi (the state language of maharashtra, where Mumbai is) term for vegetables. anything made with spinach or tubers or green vegetables is clumped in under that term (the hindi equivalent. is 'subzee')

The tempura style fried dish with besan ur referring to is called 'bhajiya' which is referred to as 'bhajji' (esp in the southern states).
Hope I havent confused you further!!

Vegetable dish = bhaaji = subzee
deep fried tempura = bhajji = bhajiya!
ichibanbrianne May 27, 2011
Ah, gotcha. Thanks soo much.
Panfusine May 26, 2011
Thanks Ichibanbrianne!, I decided long ago to never question street food, just revel in its flavors instead!
The mustard seeds usually do not feature in the absolute street side version of this dish in Mumbai, although there are versions of the Bhaji that do depending upon the city where they're made (I've seen them added in the southern cites)
ichibanbrianne May 27, 2011
Panfusine, I've been curious for a long time: what is a bhaji? Does it mean something random like snack? I think I've seen bhaji that are battered irregularly shaped veggies, fried, spicy starch (besan?) in short vermicelli sizes to put on buttered toast, then this past weekend we were in an Indian fusion place and the bhaji was not even fried, it was just sauteed spinach and something else that would have been far less forgettable had it been battered and fried. Thanks for any clarification, this one's been bugging me.
ichibanbrianne May 26, 2011
This dish is one of my favorites. Why is street food always the best? For me this dish needs to be heavy on tempered mustard seeds, but I'm sure the appropriate masala mix is just perfect.