A bao is typically a steamed bun with Asian-themed fillings. Photo: Kalyan Karmakar
One of the food trends that caught the fancy of diners in Mumbai last year is that of baos. Baos are soft buns with Asian fillings in them.
One of the first restaurants to introduce baos in Mumbai was Singkong in Khar. The menu acknowledged David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants as their inspiration. They did a lovely pork bao at Singkong. Unfortunately, they have shut down since then.
Then Delhi’s Mamagoto brought baos to Mumbai. They were followed by another restaurant import, which had come from Bangalore to Mumbai. A restaurant that celebrated the bao in its name too. Manu Chandra’s Fatty Bao. Now, there is even a bao delivery outfit in South Mumbai called BaoHaus & Co.
Though as archaeologist, blogger and caterer, Kurush Dalal reminds me that the Ling's brothers have been serving bao for at least a quarter of a century with their special roast pork. But, then, Ling's is more of a place for families and was born before bloggers' meets were.
All of this let to food writers and bloggers speak of baos as one of the in things in Mumbai’s dining scene last year. Interestingly, the ubiquitous pav or pao, that is the bedrock of Mumbai’s street food scene, was once a trendy food innovation too just as the bao is today.
Heard of the misal pav? If you go to Prakash, the Maharashtrian restaurant in Mumbai’s Dadar, you will realise that they don’t serve misal with pav. That’s because misal is not traditionally eaten at home with pao.
IFN blogger, Saee Koranne Khandekar points out that traditionally Hindu families, especially Brahmins, avoided the pao. Some even thought that it was ‘alcoholic’ as it smelt of yeast or toddy in olden days.
The thing is, pav was an introduction by the Portuguese to Mumbai, and was then taken up by Goans and Iranis to be baked in their bakeries. One of the reasons why Goan Catholics are referred to in Mumbai slang as ‘maka-pao’.
It was only later that folks with an entrepreneurial spirit thought of offering misal with pav as a lunch option for Mumbai’s mill workers and that’s how misal pav was born.
The story is the same with the vada pav that is today considered to be the most iconic Mumbai dish. Interestingly, while batata vadas (deep fried potato patties) were made in Mahrashtrian households, they were not traditionally eaten with pavs. So, the vada pav is actually a fairly new introduction.
It is only towards the late 1900s, when the folks at Kirti College vada pao, as the legend goes, thought of putting a batata vada in a pav that the vada pao, Mumbai’s answer to the hot dogs of NYC and fish and chips of London, was born.
Saee tells me that her grandmother still scorns at vada pavs and prefers to have the vada without the pav.
With the misal and vada pavs, the pav finally became a part of Mumbai’s mainstream eating DNA, which is why serving pav along with bhaji seemed the obvious answer when the pav bhaji was invented on the streets of the city.
So, that’s the story of the humble pav. A foreign introduction. Spotted upon by local entrepreneurs who integrated it into household favourite dishes to create some of Mumbai’s most iconic street food dishes.
I did a twitter poll yesterday to see preferences between pav and bao.
Wonder if years from now these results will change.
Anything is possible in Mumbai, the city which welcomes and adopts food trends from all over and make them their own.
Kalyan is a food and travel blogger, who is excited about Indian food and tries his best to bring it alive through his stories. He is happiest when he eats at small, family-run places. He blogs at <a href="http://www.finelychopped.net/"> Finely Chopped.</a>