It was not the kind of branding I expected to see in a messy, muddy, back-of-beyond suburb of Pune. A bright purple could have been expected, wadewale is not that uncommon but a clean, well-designed sign with a small cartoon face? A self-confident sign that would be more in place in an ad agency pitch than a vada pao joint – its not even part of a chain! Yevale Wadevale – the sign-art was sufficiently attractive to get me to stop and take a second look. And boy, am I glad I did.
I was hungry, winding through those narrow rollercoaster Katraj Kondhwa road on my way back to Mumbai. An accidental traffic knot made me stop right in front of the bright pink sign; since I’d already managed to park I decided this was the vada pao shop for me. I sauntered in, and in my best James Bond voice asked for a vada and (when in Pune and all that) a Punehri Misal.
The vada pao landed up immediately – steaming hot, blazingly spicy, sided by garlic chutney fried chillies. No chutneys, green red or otherwise, as is the the norm outside Mumbai. Not quite pilgrimage quality, but quite nice. So far so good, but the real kicker was what came next - The Misal…
Imagine, a deconstructed, multipart misal in the middle of nowhere. And it was fantastic. Pune style – made with sprouts rather than vatana (peas) the usal was spicy and loaded with flavour. The farsaan – the fine crunchy kinds rather than the surti-style gathia that Mumbai prefers, was suitably bolstered with grated coconut, diced onions and peanuts. It was, in other words, wonderfully satisfying.
Yavale is a real find. Its that rare place that Google has absolutely no knowledge off (till now, I guess) and its tasty, cheap, satisfying food – with branding!
An hour later, I was in front of a much better known wadewale – Joshi. This one is a huge, noticeably branded outlet that dominates a small stretch of eateries on the Mumbai-Pune Bypass Road. The huge frontage hides a large hall filled with pictures of what I assume must be Joshi, an avuncular balding man in various sizes and poses – could have done a politician proud, especially the saibaba impression.
Joshi was extremely disappointing. Once reknowned as one of the great vada pao makers, the immediate impression you get now is one of run-down negligence. The counters are empty, the service reluctant and the namesake vada paos plonked carelessly onto a plate cold; hard to screw up a vada pao, but cold and lifeless is definitely one way. The vada was very average, the misal on the other hand was nearly inedible – I abandoned it after a spoonful.
Luckily, the strip of food stalls is more than a pony with a single trick. It turned out to be an amusingly varied set of choices, from litti-chokha to daal bati churma. I settled on a a walk.
Tammana, a few steps away from Joshi, caught my attention for offering such stoutly Bhojpuri options such as Sattu paratha and Litti-Chokha (for those of you know have no idea what a litti is – here’s my blog post about what it is and how to get hold of one in Mumbai). Unfortunately, they were not ready at 4pm for my demands lunch so I changed to RK’s well advertised House of Rolls next door.
The brightly green RK’s House of Rolls certainly believed in celebrity endorsement – their signage had everything from Kapil Dev winning with world cup to Yana Gupta looking all Kingfisher – presumably both had just polished off something from RK. Truth in advertising aside, the anda-chicken roll was not half bad - sizeable chunks of kati kabab and a nice, flaky paratha that did not drip oil.
A great misal, a good roll, some halfway decent tea – it was a drive I could stomach after all.