Mumbai Dinner+Show+Stories: Pav Bhaji & Jaywant Naidu
Pav Bhaji is certainly an all-time favorite in our home, and one that is not only relatively quick and mostly hands-off but can yield a big pot fit for leftovers (Indian curries are always better the next day when flavors meld a bit more) and freezing several containers to pull out on other busy days. When this time hubby noted 3 times how well the batch came out, I thought it was time to capture and share the recipe. 2019 update: It’s now a fam favorite as well, and the kiddos love to share it with their friends.
I was lucky enough to catch Jaywant Naidu at the 18Aug17 Sofar Hyderabad show (side note: if you are a live music lover and have not yet checked out Sofar… you are missing out!). His sound was wonderful and I was amazed to learn he even invented his own guitar, aptly named the Jayvant guitar. I thought of him when looking for sounds to accompany Pav Bhaji, because though he grew up in Hyderabad, he studied music in Mumbai. Since that first fateful pairing, we can’t cook or eat Pav Bhaji without his music, and telling the story of his guitar along with the story of Pau Bhaji itself. More about him below, but first, press play as you read and/or cook!!
Storied Origins of Jaywant’s Guitar & Pav Bhaji
Let’s begin with Jaywant and his patented guitar. You can read more of his story in this piece in The Hindu. From trying out classical Indian instruments and even voice, to using part of a table fan as a slide because it fit his finger better, it was clear Jaywant was going to pave his own way. Listen to him tell the story of how his guitar came to be in the below TEDx video.
In short, it’s a Hawaiian steel guitar outfitted with extra strings to prime it for Indian classical music. His guitar has a total of 21 strings (6 main strings, 12 sympathetic, and 3 Taraf), resulting in a sound that combines the Veena, Sarod, Sitar and Sur Bahar. At the bottom of the post there is one more video of him playing.
Being quite unlike many other Indian dishes I’ve come across (large selection of mashed up veggies and served with what seems like hamburger buns), I’d always been curious about the origins of Pav Bhaji. From asking fellow diners over years of eating and cooking it, I knew that Pav (or Pau) meant bread, and bhaji meant fried (yet this is not to be confused with Bhajis (as in Mirchi Bhajis or Onion Bhajis), which are fritters of various veggies covered in gram flour and enjoyed with Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce, of course) … but beyond that I didn’t know much.
General consensus and Wikipedia claim that it was born in 1850s outside the cotton mills of Mumbai, when in the middle of the night, workers were getting out of long shifts (supposedly to support US Civil War needs), and traders were waiting for prices to be announced… and all of the above were hungry! As the story goes, industrious folk took the days left overs, mashed it up in cooked tomatoes, added masala and served it with bread toasted on a tawa (which was quicker and easier than making the typical Indian breads.
This Hindustani Times piece pays homage to the Portuguese for bringing that particular type of pav (pao = bread in Portuguese) to India and mentions a book I’ll need to check out: Curry : A Biography” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>’Curry – A Biography’ by Lizzie Cunningham.
The recipe below is one that I’ve tweaked this over the years, starting from a recipe received in 2003 from the wife of a coworker (thanks Jagruti!). Amazingly it’s not even in a single one of the 11 Indian cookbooks we have at home, though you can certainly find plenty of recipes and variations online. Anyway, this week, hubby told me no less than 3 times that “it came out really good,” so it was time to write it down before I forget what I did!
Buttery bread aside, it’s chock full of all sorts of veggies that some of the more picky among us might not be interested in on their own, but mushed up together w/ masala – oh my is it yumbos! Our kids eat it with many a toasted roll, but I have faith that over time the ratio of bread to bhaji will shift. 🙂
Don’t let the long list of ingredients and steps intimidate you! It’s actually very simple, especially if you have a pressure cooker (and aren’t afraid to use it). It makes enough for 4 hearty dinners for 4. We’ll usually eat that day, have leftovers a few days later, and I’ll have frozen 2 quart containers for another day.
Time: 1 hr (but think of it as 15 mins per meal! 😉 )
Servings: ~15 (2 full meals for 4 hungry eaters, plus more to stash in the freezer)
- 1 large head of cauliflower, chopped into ~2.5 inch pieces
- 5-6 small/medium red potatoes, chopped into 1 inch pieces (I no longer bother removing skin)
- 1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch chunks
- 1 big green pepper (capsicum), diced small.
- 2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp chili powder (could have done much more)
- 4-5 tomatoes diced small
- 1 tsp salt, or more to taste
- 5 tbsp salted butter (plus more for toasting rolls)
- 4 tbsp of Pav Bhaji masala (or maybe more. I often allow myself to lose track of the amount of butter I add…)
- 1 pint of frozen peas
- Brioche Rolls (hamburger buns or dinner rolls also work, but we love with Brioche rolls). Figure at least 2 whole buns per person.
Garnish: optional, but recommended! I was never one for raw onions, but now I do like my pav bhaji w/ onion, lime and sometimes more butter.
- Red onion, diced
- Fresh cilantro, chopped
- Wedges of Lime
- Wash/chop/peel potatoes, carrots and cauliflower.
- Put the potatoes, cauliflower and carrots in a large pressure cooker. Add 1.5 cups of water, when it reaches high pressure cook for 5 minutes, and do natural release.
- Meanwhile, chop the green pepper into a small dice.
- In a separate large pot, heat 1.5 tbsp of sunflower oil (next time just butter?) and cook the green pepper, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn.
- Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes into a small dice.
- When the pepper is soft and begins to brown (can be 10 mins or more), add ginger garlic paste and saute for a bit. Then add chili and turmeric and saute again.
- Add the chopped tomatoes to the pepper and spices, and cook until begins to combine. Use a potato masher to help things along. Add frozen peas now (or later if you don’t want them mashed).
- Mash the cooked cauliflower-carrot-potato mixture with the potato masher, and then add it to the other pot and combine. Mash a bit more, as needed.
- Add pav bhaji masala, butter (and frozen peas if you haven’t already).
- Finely dice red onion and cilantro for garnish.
- Prepare the toasted pav: cut the rolls (if needed) as if you were making a sandwich. Heat a nonstick pan, melt butter, and toast the inside of the roll.
Enjoy the tunes and the food! And please let us know via the comments how things went. In the meantime we leave you with Jaywant Naidu’s YouTube page and a video below, so that you can see as well as hear his genius.
The quick timelapse vid of the Feb 2019 pot cooking, demonstrating how the music of Jaywant Naidu is infused into the Pav Bhaji…
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A giant pot of Pau Bhaji as it cooks, helped along by the sounds of #jaywantnaidu. We shared this Cultures Capsule from the archives with neighborhood friends last Friday and Sunday! . Take yourself on a multi-sensory immersive journey to Mumbai with this recipe+video+playlist+history of the Jaywant guitar and of Pav Bhaji here: . #culturescapsules #jaywantnaidu #jaywantguitar #paubhaji #pavbhaji #mumbai #homecooking #immersivestorytelling #virtualtravel #handdrawncards #slideguitar