New and exciting has always received top billing in food—the latest fad, the newest restaurant, the trendiest neighbourhood, the healthiest diet. Often, these developments are accompanied by breathless pundit-like pronouncements: Lebanese is the new Chinese; Chinese is new Italian (wait, where does leave that Italian then?) A cuisine or dish has a moment, peaks and then becomes passé.
While there is no shortage of cover versions, originals stand the test of time. And at National Geographic Traveller India, we confess to being partial to one classic. Creating and editing magazines in this day and age, with limited or, sometimes, binding resources, is a mental endurance test. Nothing makes the looming pressures more palatable than food. It is always on our mind. What gets us through the final sweaty hours, month after month, is an absolute Bombay fixture—the vada pav. We are a group of ardent foodies, and the deadline-hour vada pav toast is our modest tradition. Vada pavs are to Mumbai what hot dogs are to New York. Naysayers can knock the street staple all they want but we, at the magazine, are quite misty-eyed about our Bombaiya tastes.
And for our collective money, there is no vada pav that quite matches Ashok Vada Pav, or the Kirti College vada pav, as it is casually referred to. The choice might feel obvious to insiders but it is well deserved. Vada pavs are simple—stick a fried potato ball with a sweet scintillating chutney in a fluffy bun; what can go wrong? But Ashok Vada Pav punches up with the zingiest combination of sauces and just the right cook on the vada, and tops it off with the showstopper—crispy fried crumbs of batter. Think of it as vada pav with fries.
My thoughts on the vada pav can get more mawkish and graphic but suffice it to say that the pleasures of food are timeless. All the features in this month’s edition, from Pondicherry, Los Angeles, all over Europe, Laos and New Zealand, recall this essential aspect of travel. Regular readers can pick up any edition of our magazine and confirm our dedication to food. Our writers go to wondrous locations and more often than not, they return with stories of food, of how a single bite opened a fascinating world to them. Once a year, we devote our energy into creating a singular edition where ‘good food’ is not the sideshow of journeys. For that special issue, taste doesn’t seem incidental to storytelling, the spotlight follows it everywhere it goes.
Lakshmi Sankaran fantasizes about a bucket-list journey to witness the aurora borealis someday. Editor in Chief at National Geographic Traveller India, she will also gladly follow a captivating tune to the end of this world.