In India’s biggest city you’ll find a sandwich-walla at almost every major street intersection. But if you can’t make it to Mumbai any time soon, this ridiculously tasty sarnie is easy to make at home.
They say Mumbai is a city, but Bombay is an emotion.
I don’t know who “they” are but the nostalgic immigrant in me agrees. People that grew up in Bombay like to think of the city as the “New York” of the east, a city that never sleeps, a place where the energy is palpable.
Everyone is in a rush to get somewhere. Taxis and cars start honking before the signal turns green. And, if you ever wanted some imagery for what “stress” may look like, all you need do is go sit on a bench at Dadar station and watch the crowds of people trying to get into an already crowded train.
But amid the rush and the noise is Mumbai’s street food. An opportunity to pause and refuel quick and cheap whether you’re a college kid, a labourer, a busy mum or a business man in a swanky car.
And, while many traveller-focused sites will hail the vada pao as Mumbai’s ultimate street food, my vote is for the Bombay sandwich.
You’ll find a sandwich-walla at almost every major street intersection. When I was growing up, most of them ran their entire business on a single trestle table and served four varieties – with cheese, without cheese, toasted or untoasted. Always on white bread. These days, you’ll find illegal-ish semi-permanent sandwich stalls kitted out with electric grills featuring more than 40 different types of sandwiches, including a chocolate version that I do not recommend.
The Bombay sandwich is easy to make at home and I love hosting a sandwich party where everyone makes their own.
Essentially, it’s boiled potatoes and fresh vegetables sandwiched between three slices of white bread that are slathered with a mint and coriander chutney. It’s loaded with butter, toasted rather than grilled in an old-school sandwich press and topped with finely grated cheese. The magic ingredient? Chaat masala.
RECIPE: BOMBAY SANDWICH
Makes about 4 triple-decker sandwiches
For the chutney
- 2 cups (packed) coriander leaves and stems
- 1 cup (packed) mint leaves
- 2-3 green chillies (omit if you dislike spice)
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 teaspoons chaat masala
- 1 tablespoon dried shredded coconut
- juice of 1 lemon
- salt to taste
- sugar to taste
For the chaat masala
- 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 6 tablespoon cumin seeds
- ¼ cup dry mango powder (amchoor – available at Indian supermarkets)
- 2 tablespoons black salt
- 1 teaspoon white salt
For the sandwich
- 12 slices white toast bread (three per sandwich)
- 2 medium potatoes, boiled
- 1 cucumber
- 1 tomato
- 1 red onion
- finely grated cheese
- sliced beetroot (optional)
Put all the chutney ingredients into a grinder, small blender or mortar and pestle and make a thick paste by adding 1 tablespoon of water at a time and blending or pounding until smooth. Remember, a thin chutney leads to a soggy sandwich. You want a spreadable texture like mayonnaise.
To make the chaat masala, first, toast the coriander seeds, peppercorns and cumin seeds in a small pan. When the seeds give off a toasty aroma, they are ready. Now pop the toasted spices and the remaining ingredients into a grinder or mortar and grind/pound until you have a fine masala.
Before you start assembling the sandwiches, thinly slice all the vegetables. Cut the crusts from the bread and butter all the slices.
To assemble a single sandwich, you will start with a layer of chutney. Then, add the potato and sprinkle on some chaat masala.
Layer with another slice of bread. More chutney. Add cucumber, tomato and finally onion. Sprinkle on some more chaat masala.
Now, slather chutney on the final slice of bread and cover your sandwich, chutney side down.
If you like your sandwich toasted, do it now. If you like your sandwich fresh, that will taste good too. Cut it into four pieces. Top with a final slather of butter and a small mound of grated cheese.
Repeat the steps to make as many sandwiches as you like.
- If you end up with a watery chutney by mistake, add in some more coconut and that will fix it.
- This chutney is very versatile and can be used for all sorts of Indian chaat dishes. You can also freeze it into ice cubes and drop one into the next curry that you cook.
- Store the chaat masala in a cool dry place. Add it to everything that needs a bit of zing. Its signature smell comes from the black salt (available from Indian food stores and some supermarkets) and does not mean that it’s gone bad.