As you approach this restaurant, the sound of the stainless steel masher hitting the iron tawa rhythmically hits your eardrums. But it isn’t the first thing you see.
Instead, you join a serpentine queue. No matter what time of the day it is.
Love snacking but want to start eating healthy? Check out some amazing options here.
The rules are simple. You walk up to the counter and try your best not to get distracted by the aroma of the sabji cooking on the tawa.
You give your name and the number of people eating with you at the counter. And then, you wait.
Once you hear your name being called out, that’s your cue — time to enter.
If you are in a group, you get a table for yourself. If you are a lone traveller, it is a luxury. You share the table with others.
You are now one table closer to attaining gastronomic joy!
The menu is unlike any other no-frills eatery. The only options here are six varieties of pav bhaji, a few side dishes, 11 types of fresh juice, five varieties of seasonal milkshakes and cold beverages.
Located in the former hub mill of South Mumbai, Tardeo, Sardar Pav Bhaji welcomes you.
What is pav bhaji? How did the dish originate?
With the dawn of the American Civil War (from 1861 to 1865), a sharp rise in the global demand for cotton supply saw Indian mills attract gargantuan orders. Meeting them meant backbreaking work around the clock for textile mill workers in the island city of Mumbai. So much so, they hardly had time to feed themselves.
In this scenario, there was a dire need for a snack that would be quick to prepare, eat and light on the pocket too. The answer came in the form of pav bhaji by local vendors who stood outside the gates of these mills and sold them plate by plate for a few paise.
Essentially a thick curry made by mashing leftover vegetables, (majorly tomatoes for puree and boiled potatoes for the base), the dish soon became a crowd favourite. Surpassing the era of mills in the city, pav bhaji now finds its rightful place on restaurant menus—from local nukkads to five-star ones.
If you are in Mumbai and need to eat pav bhaji pronto, 7 out of 10 people will recommend you head straight to Sardar Pav Bhaji.
Because it isn’t just the flavour but its history, that makes the eatery so iconic to Mumbai.
From millworkers in yesteryears to canoodling couples, daily wage workers, rickshaw pullers, college-goers, families to even celebrities, the eatery attracts people from all walks of life.
The journey of this eatery goes back 53 years, when its founder, Sardar Ahmed, started selling snacks in Tardeo to mill workers who returned from tiring shifts.
Speaking to The Quint, Nissar Ansari, the owner of Sardar Pav Bhaji, said,
“My father wanted to serve something that was more like a meal but was available at the price of a snack dish. Something that was easy to eat standing, but was yet fresh and healthy. We still make it with lots of vegetables like fresh green peas and capsicum, along with potatoes and tomatoes, and our secret masalas. We do not put artificial food colour or other additives, so our pav bhaji is not red-coloured…but a natural brown colour.”
He also adds that Amul butter is a crucial ingredient, and I have to agree. If there is one restaurant that swears by its loyalty to the utterly butterly delicious butter, it is Sardar Pav Bhaji. From its bhaji, regular and masala pavs and even its side chutneys, any savoury sold at the restaurant has generous dollops of the product.
Sardar Ahmed formally established the eatery in 1966, and today, his successors continue to run it.
Even though things have changed—for example, a plate that once cost 60 paise, costs anywhere between Rs 140 to 200 today—it has had no impact on the restaurant’s footfall, and it is almost always full.
From cheese pav bhaji, jain pav bhaji (without onions, potatoes and garlic) to khada bhaji pav (with vegetable chunks), the eatery has several options to offer.
Even as you are on your way to finishing one helping, one of the servers continually makes the rounds armed with a basket full of buttery pavs ready to refill plates across tables.
The dessert menu has two dishes fighting neck-to-neck to win the victor’s crown—the Caramel Custard and Chocolate Mousse.
Insider tip: If you are a spice lover, don’t forget to ask the servers to relay a message to the kitchen to whip their special garlic chutney and give your bhaji the added oomph it needs.
If this wasn’t enough to convince you why you should drop by at this eatery when in Mumbai, here’s what some reviews say.
“Visited this place at midnight and there are no chance to get this place less crowded. There will be an immense amount of crowd anytime you visit this place. This place serves one of the best pav bhaji in the suburbs. The service may seem a little bit slow just because of the crowd but the quantity and quality of the food is great. The place is quite spacious and comfy too. Overall had an amazing experience over there and would love to visit this place again.”
Another visitor shared, “Where else do you go when you crave for a delicious Pav Bhaji? The very famous outlet is one of the best Pav bhaji sellers in the town. The outlet is located on a 10 mins walking distance from Mumbai Central Station. It’s an open outlet, spacious and clean. They serve the most buttery pav bhaji as far as I know. It may seem expensive, but the first bite will tell you why it’s worth the money.”
You can visit Sardar Pav Bhaji at 166-A, Tardeo Road Junction, Mumbai 400 034.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)