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"The Taste No Chef Can Give": Processing Street Food in Mumbai

By Harris Solomon

Cite As:
Solomon, Harris. 2015. “"The Taste No Chef Can Give": Processing Street Food in Mumbai.” Cultural Anthropology 30, no. 1: 65–90.


This article examines a Mumbai street food called the vada pav. I describe how a local political party branded its own version of the food, elaborate how streetside vendors make and sell the food, and then show how corporate franchises inspired by McDonald’s rendered the vada pav “safe” and “clean” through mechanized processing. In contrast to treating the street as an empty container inside which food is placed, this article elaborates how the street is critical for changing a food from one version to another. I argue that the street lies at the heart of what I will describe as attempts at food processing. Food processing isolates raw ingredients; it singles them out to transform a food into something else. My aim is to expand what processing might entail across sites of vernacular politics and intensified corporatization. Differences in possible transformations allow for guesses about how one thing transforms into another. The particular relationship of the vada pav to the street shapes what kind of guesswork is necessary to understand processing’s political and social effects. The street marks efforts to transform the vada pav, and, accordingly, ideologies and acts of processing must move beyond a focus on location to accommodate how the street generates possibilities for urban life.


food politics; urban life; India