In the commercial capital of India, snacks, local buns and burgers are tasted at all times on ephemeral stands. Street gastronomy is elevated to the rank of the art of living.
They arrive early in the morning, pushing their sleigh at arm’s length to Kala Ghoda, at the southern tip of Bombay. They settle at the corner of Dalal Street, where the Stock Exchange tower stands, light a fire, make the pots clink, and prepare their spices by singing, while at a few meters three dairy cows conscientiously ruminate on the bitumen. These are street food vendors, one of the symbols of the sprawling megalopolis on the west coast of the subcontinent.
In Delhi and Calcutta too, people eat on the street, but here this practice is part of the art of living. Clients range from busy business people to the most modest, lawyers buzzing around the courthouse to clerical office workers after swallowing the light meal prepared by their wife.
The consequence of the American Civil War
On the ephemeral stands, the vada pav reigns supreme. It is called “the Bombay burger”. It combines the crunchiness of the frying ( vada ), in the form of a mashed potato ball mixed with a chickpea puree and a few muscular peppers, with the irresistible rubber of the pav that surrounds it, a square loaf of which the name refers to pão, in memory of the Portuguese Jesuits who planted here their crucifix in the XVI the century.
According to former journalist Aakar Patel, who wrote a lot on the subject before joining Amnesty International India, street food in Bombay owes its existence to the American Civil War that ravaged the south of the United States at the end of the XIX the century and gave the opportunity to the Indian cotton supplant US rival in the global market. The district of Kala Ghoda, where prices were negotiated, suddenly attracted thousands of merchants from the neighboring state of Gujarat, known for the entrepreneurial spirit of its inhabitants.