Mumbai food: This is the only stall that serves wood-fired vada pav in the city
Owner of Mumbai’s only wood-fired vada pav stall tells us why he won't ever switch to the stove
It'S a Saturday morning, and vada pav vendor Tukaram Shinde is busy placing wooden logs in a storage space that he has carved out of his tiny shop in Sewri. "I think we have enough wood to last the month," he tells his nephew as they keep some aside for the day. The 54-year-old runs Shree Vitthal Vadewale, the only wood-fired vada pav stall in the city. Set up in 1955, the owners here follow the primal technique of cooking popular snacks like samosas, wadas, chillies and dal bhajjyas over an open fire.
Tukaram Shinde at Sewri shop
As we take a seat on the solitary bench outside the shop, Shinde asks us to be patient while he ignites the amber flames with a stick. "It takes about 15 minutes longer to prepare food when compared to its stove and gas counterparts. But it's worth the wait," he says, offering a platter of bhatte vade (woodfired bata vadas), priced at Rs. 14. As we bite into the bhajjiyas, Shinde's words hit home. The vadas are sumptuous, well-cooked and lack the spicy kick that comes with most vada paos, which is fine with us. "The benefit of this method is the evenness of the heat distribution, so it does not cause acidity later. Also, the smoke flavour imparted by the wood adds an extra flavour dimension that you just can't get in a gas stove," he explains.
A platter of bhajjiyas. Pic/PRADEEP DHIVAR
It's the reason why his shop draws customers from the far suburbs including Thane and Virar. Despite being a five-minute walk from the busy Sewri rail crossing, the shop's inconspicuous location — nestled in a silent lane —has never proved a hurdle. "We haven't advertised our business, ever. It's entirely through word of mouth, because we like our food to do the talking," he says. The shop opens at 7 am and shutters down at midnight. The only time you'll find the shop shut is for two hours in the afternoon when the owners opt for some shut eye. Here, the wood is procured from the waste churned out by industrial units that Shinde has struck a deal with. The economical and eco-friendly method has made him stick to the technique despite easier and less time-consuming options at hand.
"It has never occurred to us to make the shift to gas. Cooking on wood is our identity. It's what separates us from the other vada pav stalls," he says. The shop is a family-run business that was launched by Shinde's father Vitthal. The set up, too, hasn't changed much in all these years. In a less than 100 sq ft space, there's just enough space for two people to sit, as utensils and chulha take up most of the space. "Our patrons request us to stick to this method because they find the taste different. For this reason, we'll continue doing what we do," he smiles.