I recently watched the brand new Bollywood flick ‘Thackeray’, more so for being a die-hard fan of actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui than having even an ounce of knowledge about Indian politics. No I wouldn’t recommend this movie, the slow-paced screenplay does not do justice to Siddiqui’s talent nor the fiery journalist turned politician he portrays. But what I did gather from it all was Balasaheb Thackeray’s undeniable influence on restoring the Marathi identity.
One particular scene that resonates is where Thackeray (played by Siddiqui) starts a street-food revolution introducing the humble ‘Vada Pao’ as a Marathi snack.
Vada Pao is essentially a deep-fried, battered ball of spiced mashed potato that is served in a fluffy ‘pao’ bun with green chutney and fried chilies. It can be found in the menus of many Indian cafeterias across the UAE, but imagine an entire restaurant concept dedicated to Pao, one that takes its humble roots and reshapes it to an entirely funky new menu that is still so nostalgically ‘Indian’.
The brainchild of Dubai-based couple Amol Dhote and Moushmi Bhatia, O’Pao is the quirky new foodie on the Karama (Dubai) block, close to Burjuman and right behind Regis Hotel. The restaurant is cafe-style small yet brightly lit and colorfully inviting. On one wall is a painted graphic depicting a typical Mumbai scene where a Pao vendor is serving an entire queue of stereotypical customers including a street-smart cricket-playing youth and a chubby ‘hawaldar’ (policeman).
At O’Pao the humble pao bun comes in two forms; the classic and the denser, slightly sweeter potato and flour bun that is aptly called the ‘Firangi’ (or ‘Foreigner’) bun.
I started off with the O’Chicken Vada Pao. It looks identical to a traditional Vada Pao, but vegetarians beware! The chubby ‘vada’ here is made of minced chicken! It tastes like an Indian kebab to me, and therefore works perfectly well with the traditional green chutney and pao.
My second pao was the O’Mutton Khicha Pao aka pulled mutton cooked in Indian spices and served in a ‘Firangi’ bun. This pao is a must-try for meat lovers. The flavors are bang-on, and that dense bun with its hint of sweetness makes it an absolute treat.
The menu not only lists an interesting array of revamped Vada Pao, but also includes a number of Indian cafe classics like the very milky Indian Iced Coffee, Masala Thumbs Up and Bournvita.
If you’re planning to eat more than two pao’s I would suggest the Masala Thumbs Up, nothing washes it all down as well as this classic!
Two pao’s down and I was stuffed! Will have to make a comeback for the other enticing variants such as their best-selling Butter Chicken Pao and the Bombay Gymkhana inspired O-Chili Cheese Pao. They even have a pao dessert! The O’Pao French Toast is served with butterscotch ice-cream, custard sauce and Lotus biscuit crumbs!
All that pao, and you can’t help repeating the slogan on their colorfully painted wall: “What a Pao!”