September 6, 2004

the original bombay burger

i had always wanted to do it. ever since i set foot in this country almost three years ago. every time i visited the streets of london, every time it rained, every time i craved for them, i wanted to do it.

i wanted to sell wada pav in london.

yesterday, praveen and i did just that… right here down the street where we live!! i was going crazy with excitement, and ideas! the weekly tabloid announced a street-fair in the old town last sunday. the old town is just five minutes from where we live and i thought there couldn’t be a better time to try out the wada pav experiment, just to see how the english respond to the indian burger.

since it took me almost the entire week to confirm about the fair, get a table-space in front of cochin restaurant, we made all the purchases at the last minute. our friend harish, who also shares my enthu for this idea unfortunately had a visiting cousin (along with family) from glasgow, so he couldn’t make it, neither could jayu and girish who were equally excited but had visiting friends. so it was up to praveen and me to give it our best shot. we weren’t sure what to do next, both of us had never stood behind a stall before (although praveen’s cousins back home run a hotel), and i had made wadas just two or three times by myself at home. naturally, we had so many questions…how many will i have to make? will they taste good? will they sell? what will the response be like? and so on…

anyway we decided we would surely enjoy ourselves, and that was what was important. so we set out, buying potatoes from the local market, oil, chillies and ginger, coriander leaves, and pav / flat burger-buns (although they don’t have the mumbai-type square bread we would have to make do with the round ones). also gloves (since no one wants to buy hand-touched food here!), about two hundred and fifty paper napkins and plates. i think i was most embarrassed buying the bread, because everyone seemed to be staring and pointing at our 240-burger-buns-full-trolley, smiling to themselves at the sight. to make things worse, praveen laughed back, telling them “well, i’m just feeling a little peckish today”!! that was the last i saw of him in the store, because i decided to wait for him in the car park outside while my face regained some of its natural colour.

saturday 8pm:
once we got home praveen and i made some simple posters advertising our product. we had a quick neer-dosa dinner with some masala-potato bhaji. next, we got a huge deep vessel to cook potatoes in from our five-doors-down-the-line-neighbour (who also owns the cochin restaurant). a batch of potatoes in and while they cooked, i made the coriander, ginger and chilli paste that would go in the recipe. almost two hours later, we got about 88 wadas from this first lot. that helped us get an idea about how early we would have to start the next morning, since the fair would only begin by 1pm.

sunday 11am:
our kitchen looked like it was hit by hurricane wada pav…and the whole house smelt of thick oil and potatoes. two more batches of huge boiled potatoes were waiting to be peeled and mashed and rolled into wadas, and the others waiting to be fried. by this time i had also made some date-chutney (a last-minute idea) and was waiting for praveen to get back with some more fresh coriander for green-chilli-mint-coriander chutney. on his way back he also managed to put up some of our posters on the lamp-posts leading to the fair.

1pm:
i sent praveen out with the first batch of hot and ready-to-eat wadas (about a hundred), the chutneys and all other paraphernalia that would go on our table. he forgot to take his cap and it was going to be a very hot day…good for business we thought 😉

1:45pm:
boni hogaya!“, he yells into the phone, over the noise of all the people and music in the background, (boni is hindi for the first sale of any product.) he had sold three.

2:30pm:
i am done with the frying. i’m totally dehydrated now, and wash my face with ice-cold water in the basin, wondering how so many people sell wada pavs in india every day. i am curious about our little venture nevertheless, so i take some caps (i learn that it was one of the hottest days of the year) and set out to join praveen. he says he had some good news, that he sold 26 of them and that the people were coming back for more. i think i felt a grin touch both my ears then.

5:00pm:
praveen and i are still baking under the sun. we hadn’t had our lunch (we didn’t feel like it, with all the wada pavs in front of us and the sun overhead), and we probably gulped down about four or five bottles of water. i got the foldable three-legged seat for praveen from our car and watched the bare skin on my feet grow dark inside my thick-strapped sandals.

6:00pm:
the bells of the cathedral start ringing and all of a sudden there are people in front of us. one man wants “nine bombay burgers” for his family dinner, another man wants two for his wife, another maharashtrian lady (the only indian all day) buys two again…she had bought four earlier with her husband and for a moment i almost feel guilty for charging her. if there weren’t so many people at one time, maybe i would just give them to her, we could even be friends… my mind is running with thoughts but my hands just can’t stop working, spreading the chutneys one by one neatly on the open bread, filling in some garlic chutney and ‘boondi’ and two wadas. business seems to have shot up suddenly and praveen and i find that most customers were second- and third-time buyers in the day. some of them also asked for the recipe. they say they had never tasted anything like this before and we say you’ll find it only in bombay. praveen gets carried away and begins to shout “burgers, burgers, bombay burgers for a pound!” :-))

7:30pm:
the roads are open to the traffic nd we’re asked to pack up now. praveen and i look at each other and smile. we had worked hard, we had had a good day, we had made new friends and we had enjoyed ourselves all the time. a lot of the wadas were unsold, but neither of us was complaining. tired and happy, we walked back to our car, looking forward to a nice warm bath and cold and refreshing thairchadam that i would prepare later for dinner.

you are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. you may have to work for it, however. — richard bach, illusions.

when we started in the day we were apprehensive if we would at least recover our costs (£56), but we found that we had indeed, and also had made a profit of over £70! “not bad at all,” i tell praveen, “see, i think this is what they call low investment, high returns!” and praveen replies,”don’t talk to me about wada pavs for a month.”

so well, i can tell everyone now, i sold wada pav in the uk. i know i can do it again, but i am not sure when. maybe someone else eventually will sell the bombay burger here, and i’ll probably bite into a few and casually mention that hey, we did it first…read it on my journal!

right now though, i’m quite content.

13 Comments »





  • Mahesh Shantaram said:

    I read the reports!

    Stellar performance at the stalls! – The Sun

    ‘Bombay Burger’ sizzles at the box office – The Guardian

    Sold out – The Economist

    Hmm… I didn’t get the part about stacking bread loaves.



  • hemanth said:

    Unfortunately we do not live anywhere close to London. Looking at the ad, am sure I know the reason you guys were able to do so well…



  • shodZ said:

    Hurry up, apply for a patent. dont let them get an IP on it



  • Rahul said:

    The mallu entrepreneurial spirit, cannot stop putting up a bakery or stall;-) Enjoyed the entry.



  • radhika said:

    “Hmm… I didn’t get the part about stacking bread loaves”

    you’re right mahesh. just added that vital piece of information :-))



  • Guruprasad said:

    Hey, thats a cute little venture of yours…very nicely written too…starting off with lengthy notes, and through the post, reflecting your real frenzy in the activity – writing style is good…am sure the wada pavs too…to entice vellaikaaranga in vellaikaaranga country with namma ooru matteru!!!
    Kudos, keep it up…I can feel the spirit with me too…
    BTW, thanks for the little quote from Richard Bach – on a difft note and context, this reminded me of something else!



  • radhika said:

    thanks everyone 🙂
    looking at all your feedback, i feel like going wada pavs all over again!!



  • Chakra said:

    Wow!! Thats great!!!

    Entrepreneurial bug has bit me too.. but have to wait till next summer!!



  • achhan said:

    excellent work, i.e. the vada pav and the writing. original bombay burger rang the bells like hot dogs on the web. good.
    you may add in future ads that the original bombay burger does not contain any synthetics, it is totally natural, will not add to any existing complications, except on individual cases sirens may go off when the gas level goes above the mark!
    excellent venture, wish we were there.



  • MottaiBoss aka kaatss said:

    WOW….there you go…..hope there is a little fire to own your place soon…..will visit your hotel when i come there…..(psst psst: want some management advise….email me)



  • Nidhi said:

    Wow! Sounds like so much fun:) Maybe you should try panipuris and chaat the next time:)



  • Bharathy said:

    Read you blog after a loong time.
    Your writing is now taken a British accent to it. Good show.
    Makes me miss England.



  • Nagraj said:

    I feel sorry for Praveen. Poor guy


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