Los Angeles, to its credit, is wonderfully in touch with the world’s street foods. You can find Korean blood sausage, Thai papaya salad, Japanese okonomiyaki, Salvadorian papusas, Oaxacan tacos and Shanghai soup dumplings in the span of a single day. But what about the Indian street food of Mumbai?
Mumbai is immensely serious about its street food, which includes tiny globules of hollow crackers splashed with chutneys and spiced water, deconstructed samosas bathed in fragrant tomato broth and covered in chickpeas, and the creamy cow brains and spicy halal grilled lungs that provoked an Anthony Bourdain rhapsody in one of the earlier episodes of "No Reservations."
That seriousness is most apparent when in line at a Mumbai vada pav vendor, which, assuming it's a reputable stall, will almost certainly be attracting crowds and chaos.
Vada pav’s filling is formed by shaping spiced mashed potatoes to roughly the size of a baseball, coating the shape in gram flour and frying it alongside a dozen others in cauldrons of oil large enough to be weaponized in a siege. The potato vada, sometimes slathered in liquid chutneys, sometimes only dusted with fiercely spicy chili powder, will be flattened between the pav, a liberally buttered white bun.
The snack didn't really proliferate until the '60s, but these days it’s eaten not just across India, but also across Los Angeles, and Artesia’s Little India neighborhood in particular.
The only issue, at least from a purist perspective, is that true pav is made only in bakeries scattered across Mumbai. Choosing a good bread substitute in the United States is difficult -– some recipes simply suggest Parker House rolls -– and restaurants here often settle for low-grade hamburger buns.
The snack can be found on the menu at almost any Gujarati or Mumbai-style chaat joint scattered around the Southland -- from Culver City’s Samosa House to Upland’s Ashirwad the Blessings.
But maybe Southern California’s best version is available at Artesia’s Surati Farsan Mart, the Gujarati-style chaat outpost that tends to produce the highest-quality vegetarian cooking in the area. Its vada pav is very good: spicy but not overwhelming, freshly fried but not greasy and served with bread that's a close enough approximation to pav that even the purists would have trouble grumbling.
There is a fair alternative across the street at Bombay Sweets & Snacks, whose vada is nearly as good as Surati’s but with a serious onslaught of grease and butter.
At Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se, Artesia’s resident Mumbai street-food specialist, there's a decent version, though here you might be better off just eating pav bhaji, the potato curry-bread combination that is one of vada pav’s few competitors.
Surati Farsan Mart, 11814 E. 186th St., Artesia, (562) 860-2310.
Bombay Sweets & Snacks, 18526 Pioneer Blvd, Artesia, (562) 402-7179.
Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se, 17705 Pioneer Boulevard, Artesia, (562) 860-6699.