Nestled in a tiny lane inSewri, Mumbai, is a hole-in-the wall shop going by the humble name of Shree VitthalVadewale. It is the only shop in Mumbai that serves delectable street snacks like samosas, vadapavs andbhajjiyacooked not in a vat of bubbling oil, but over an open fire. 54-year-old TukaramShinde runs this eatery whichwas set up by predecessors and he has stayed true to their authenticity by refusing to switch to a gas stove. According to Shinde, this archaic, primal technique of cooking over an open fire gives food a unique flavor and texture that can’t be replicated over a gas stove.
In a city like Mumbai, where every corner and each lane plays host to a vadapav vendor or two, it’s rare to find a stall that does things differently. Shree VitthalVadewale does, and how.
The shop is a mere 100square feet, with most of the space taken up by utensils and huge wood stove. Customers perch themselves on the solitary bench outside and sit for a good 15 minutes for their vadapavs or bhajjiyas to be delivered. It takes longer to cook food over a wood fire rather than on a gas stove, but Shinde’s customers show exemplary patience while they wait their turn. There’s only enough space in there for his nephew and another helper, but Shinde doesn’t seem to mind. He churns out his treats with love, diligence and good humour.
But why doesn’t he switch to the much more convenient modern stove? He’ll not only have more space in his eatery, but his turnaround time will be faster and he’ll be able to cater to more customers. When asked this question, Shinde shakes his head and explains that a wood fire distributes heat more evenly than a gas stove. He also claims that vadas and bhajjiyas cooked this way don’t cause acidity later in the day. And of course, the extra smoky flavor that the wood fire imparts to the food cooked over it just can’t be replicated on a gas stove. Apparently, Shinde’s customers agree with him. His vadas are not spicy, but their unique taste has earned Shinde a loyal patronage.
Shinde’s cooking method is not the only archaic thing about the set-up. He doesn’t believe in advertising. He thinks that if his customers like his preparations, they will themselves spread the word about him. “We like our food to do the talking,” he says. And he’s been proven right here, too. People from far offareas like Thane swear by his vadapavs and bhajjiyas. With the unique taste of his food, and economical pricing, Shinde is a favorite amongst the locals. And he’s not expensive: a platter of bhatte vade, or wood fired batatavadas only costs Rs.14 here.
Shinde procures his wood from local industrial units that churn it out as waste. He has struck a monthly deal with them. His food is not only delicious, but it’s also environmentally ethical. These factors are what make Shinde stick to his cooking method despite the availability of easier options, and why you should run, not walk to Shree VitthalVadewale!
Where: Sewri, Mumbai
When: 7am to 12 am, everyday. (Shut for a two hour siesta in the afternoon.)
Nearest public transport: 5 minute walk from Sewri rail crossing
Damage: Less than 50 rupees per person