Mumbai, the city of dreams is known for its skyline, for the sea, for being the business capital of India, and most of all for its survival meal- Vada Pav. It is not just a culinary delight that has become an integral part of the city, it is an emotion. An emotion that is shared between the riches and the rags. Though, the history of Vada Pav is enshrouded and unknown to most of us purely because that wasn’t the goal of my father Mr. Ashok Vaidya. His ambitions weren’t just limited towards making a business successful but also doing his bit of philanthropy in his own ways.  

The History Of Vada Pav: It All Began with Balasaheb Thackeray, The Man Behind this Delicious Maharashtrian Snack

When asked to get into the history of vada-pav, one of the most beloved food of Maharashtra, we all need to delve into the life of the creator. It all started in the 1960s when Shiv Sena leader Balasaheb Thackeray was encouraging Marathi Manus to hone their entrepreneurial skills and become their own boss in spite of working for others.

My father, who was then working at the Hindustan Cycles, was highly motivated by Balasaheb Thackeray's ideology and decided to start his own business. While ideating his business plan, he wanted to pursue something he was passionate about. Hence, he started a business that would feed lower and middle-class strata, especially mill workers, with healthy and wholesome meals.

From Poha to Vada Pav: Charting Our Shift Towards This Famous Food of Maharashtra

My father wanted to serve his people, especially those who needed it the most. He was a true Shiv Sainik in everything he practiced and believed in. He began his journey at Dadar station near platform No.1 by selling Poha. After a couple of years, he changed his course to vada pav as poha wasn't the best option because it needed a lot of provisions and was a cumbersome job. One must think that the idea of vada pav came from already existing burgers, but the fact is he didn't know about it back then. My father had a customer who would get Pav to have it with poha, and he realised that Pav is a fulfilling and easy-to-eat Maharashtrian snack.

That's where the thought of Vada Pav came from. It was an experiment that became an overnight success. Moreover, Vada was a traditional Maharashtrian food but was never put in between Pav with chutneys like the dry garlic chutney or the coconut garlic chutney that we use today. That's how he became the inventor of Vada pav.

Vada pav was first invented as a quick and inexpensive snack for Mumbai’s textile mill workers
Vada pav was first invented as a quick and inexpensive snack for Mumbai’s textile mill workers | First Original stall

The Love We Received For Vada Pav Changed The Way We Saw Maharashtrian Food

My father scaled the business with sheer passion for providing healthy food that satiates the hunger of thousands of people and is cost-effective at the same time. Soon, there were vada pav stalls all over Mumbai, and it was also used by Shiv Sena as one of their campaign strategies to win the elections. Being a hard-core Shiv Sainik, it was a matter of pride for my father. It is undeniable that his vision revolutionized Mumbai's culinary journey massively. At the same time, his steps echoed the political history of Bombay back in the 1960s when there weren't many Marathi entrepreneurs nor go-to Marathi cuisines. The market was dominated by Udupi food chains and other South Indian cuisines. Hence, introducing a Marathi cuisine also meant upholding and advocating the traditions of Maharashtra. I can proudly say that he wasn't a businessman who wanted to make money. Money was secondary to his goals. He was a social entrepreneur who was a fierce Thackeray loyalist. And rightly so, as Balasaheb Thackeray personally asked the BMC officials to not create any hindrance in my father's vada pav business. Also, it's well known that Balasaheb Thackeray was very fond of the vada pavs that my dad would sell.

Three Principles That We Swear By

Like any other successful entrepreneur, my father had principles he swore by throughout his entrepreneurial journey. He would practice three of them religiously - integrity, self-reliance, and humility. And he has taught the same to us throughout our childhood. Besides running his Maharashtrian snack business, he made it a point that he helped everyone in his own ways, from getting the right resources for poor kids to getting proper education to assisting people to find the right person to approach when they are in trouble. We only found out about his legacy after he passed away. He was very grounded and humble and has passed the same qualities to us. He was a very strict father during our schooling.

Carrying On The Legacy Of Our Traditional Marathi Food Business 

Being a school dropout himself, my father understood the importance of education and ensured we got a proper education. Once my siblings and I started with our university studies, he became our friend and always made sure we could talk to him about anything and everything. There are so many good values that I have learned from him, and I am making it a point that it's passed on to our next generations. Keeping that in mind, my younger brother Narendra Vaidya still runs my father's business at the same place, outside Western Railway's Dadar station, with the same objectives and my mother makes sure that we keep the spices and the flavors the same as my father would.

His legacy is unmatched, but we are trying to take it ahead from here.

Vaidya family                                                                                                                                      Vaidya Family

Author: Vinayak Vaidya