South Bombay is the social, cultural, economic and cosmopolitan heartland of Mumbai; at least according to people who live in South Bombay. Which is why it comes as no surprise that South Bombay has by far the best line up of vada pav establishments anywhere on the face of the Earth, they have rampant organised crime, a declining population, crumbling infrastructure and a 50-50 chance of being swallowed up by the Arabian Sea, but you really can’t hold any of that against them once you sample their vada pav selection.
The problem with preparing a list of this magnitude and importance is that it’s next to impossible to individually sample every single vada pav from every single stall in the city, we don’t have the man power, money or immunity for such an undertaking, what we did do is get people to vote on their favourite vada pav centres in the city and visit the 5 most popular ones for a personal review. It’s not nearly as interesting as it sounds. Here’s a list of the best vada pav stalls in South Bombay in no particular order:
1) Jai Maharashtra Vada Pav Centre: Matunga West, next to Shiv Palace and Matunga Station
Why they’re amazing: Their Perfectly Balanced Vada
Price: Rs. 12
When you first look at Jai Maharashtra Vada Pav Centre you will not be impressed, if you can find it at all. It doesn’t even have a piece of paper with a logo crudely designed on WordArt let alone an actual sign with its name on it. They might not know a thing about branding, but they do know how to whip up a mean vada pav. Their vada was great, it was just as tasty as it needed to be and just as crisp, nothing more, and most certainly nothing less. There was no particular aspect of their vada which we found to be unique; it was just a good old fashioned vada pav, unburdened by the need to be different.
2) Ashok Vada Pav: Dadar West, next to Kirti College
Why they’re amazing: Their Crunchy Vada.
Price: Rs. 20
It’s not often that a highly recommend and popular establishment doesn’t turn out to be completely overrated and usually disgusting. Just look at KFC. Which is why we were genuinely flabbergasted (it’s a real word, look it up) when we went to Ashok Vada Pav. Their vada pav was different, it wasn’t just crisp, it was crunchy and sprinkled with chura, and their chillies, succulent but pungent. Then there was the owner, a seemingly inconspicuous little man who created something childhood dreams are made of, the Willy Wonka of Mumbai street food. If you’re looking for the best vada pav in Bombay, you should look no further.
3) Sri Swami Samrat: Dadar West, Next To Shiv Sena Bhavan
Why they’re amazing: Their Chutney.
Price: Rs. 13
There’s a reason why Sri Swami Samrat is popular with the Shiv Sena. When it comes to making vada pav, they know how to do it right, (or at least far right). The vada was pretty good, thought not overly impressive. What truly sets them apart is their tangy meetha chutney. It’s not usual that a simple chutney can turn an above average vada pav into something amazing, but this is a rare exception; especially when you top it off with their spicy green chutney which takes what would be reasonably pleasant experience and turns it into something tantalising.
4) Aram Vada Pav: Fort, Opposite CST
Why they’re amazing: Their Size and Liberal Use of Garlic
Price: Rs. 15
Aram’s vada pavs are absolutely massive, but you won’t really notice that it until you’ve eaten enough to sustain you for the rest of your life, then realise you’re only half way through your first vada. Most other stalls get a kick overloading their vadas with random spices, Aram’s a bit different that way, they get a kick overloading their vadas with straight garlic; But it works rather well actually. Of course if garlicky vada pav isn’t your cup of tea you can always go for one of the other 30 vada pav related items on the menu.
5) Graduate Vada Pav: Byculla East, Parallel to Byculla Station
Why they’re amazing: Their Vada’s Creamy Centre
Price: Rs. 12
Graduate Vada Pav was one of the most highly recommended street food stalls we came across. Was it amazing and completely blew us away? Unfortunately, no. That being said it was still a fairly impressive vada pav in its own right and most certainly unique enough to make in onto this list. Most vadas are flavourful on the outside and bland on the inside, when you overlook the chillies of course, Graduate’s are the exact opposite, the outside is quite ordinary but the inside is deliciously melt-in-your-mouth creamy. If you’re a vada pav enthusiast, we strongly recommend you go to Byculla and check it out, which is saying something because we wouldn’t normally recommend that people go to Byculla.
If you aren’t from South Bombay but still love vada pavs, check out our article of the best vada pavs in the Western Suburbs here.