Minal batavia’s Pav bhaji

A modern Mumbai Mum

By Shelley Jolly and Minal Batavia

Minal, born and raised in India’s financial capital, considers Mumbai to be her home.  Her family migrated there from Gujarat.  She grew up in an apartment surrounded by people of different cultures.   They spoke many languages, and shared many different foods. Open door policy was the norm, and an important part of her youth.  It cut across cultural barriers, and brought people together. Neighbours became extended family.

Minal celebrated a myriad of festivals in this multicultural mix. Each festival was, and is unique, and celebrated in a different way. When asked to recall her favourites, she listed Raksha Bandhan, Diwali, Holi, and Paryushan.

Raksha Bandhan is a festival that symbolised the bond between brothers and sisters. Minal would tie a sacred thread on her brother’s wrist, while praying for his wellbeing.   Her brother would reciprocate with a gift, promising to protect and look after her wellbeing.

Diwali, or Festival of Lights, is an all-time favourite for Minal.  She loves decorating her home, creating festive ambience, and inviting friends and family over.  In NZ, “friends who are family” join her. They go together to the temple to express their gratitude and seek blessings.  They feast, share mithai (Indian sweets), exchange presents, wear new clothes, and dance to Indian music.

Holi, is the Festival of Spring.   Festival goers enjoy the ritual of throwing coloured water and powders on friends and family. Holi is also known as the Festival of Colours. It is a day spent in the company of friends, and celebrating the day by splashing it with colours of fun, love and joy.

Navratri is a nine day festival dedicated to goddess Durga, Mother of the Universe.  It is an important festival in Gujarat.  Celebration involves a traditional dance known as ‘garba’.   

Minal loved dressing in traditional outfits, adorning herself with jewellery, and celebrating it with fanfare and excitement.

Paryushan, the celebration of spiritual awareness, is the most important festival for Jains (people following Jainism). This festival is very close to Minal’s heart. It aligns with her way of life.

During Paryushan all Jains strive to exercise self-discipline.  They fast to purify their body and soul.  It is a time for self-analysis, introspection and reflection on past conduct, all in the light of the teachings of Jainism. It is a chance to reset, to lead a spiritually cleaner life.

People in Mumbai are passionate about street food. She feels fortunate to have been exposed to the street food culture.

Pav (bread) bhaji (vegetables) is one of her favourites. It is a very popular street food and a favourite item in every household. Pav bhaji is even better when eaten in the company of friends. People add their own flavours and variations to this dish.

On sharing her favourite recipe, the thought of mouth-watering spices and vegetables brings happy memories for Minal.  It makes her want to travel back in time, to enjoy the fun moments again. Even today when she makes Pav bhaji, it is always enjoyed in the company of friends.

The youngest in her family, Minal accepted an arranged marriage. It was of great importance that her future husband and family were vegetarian, and followed Jainism. This is a philosophy respecting all living creatures, and a gentle approach to life.

In 2007, big changes were afoot for Minal. The Labour Government opened up immigration for early childhood teachers. Minal and her husband wanted their children to have the best education. On a friend’s advice, they chose to come to New Zealand.

Already a qualified teacher in India, Minal came alone, to study and upskill. Her husband stayed behind, to wind up their affairs, and prepare to follow. Her oldest son (8 years old) studied in a boarding school. His younger brother (five years old) was cared for by her parents. The separation was heart breaking, a tough choice. Her boys were emotionally unsettled, and didn’t understand why their lives had been turned upside down.

For the oldest son, adjusting to a life away from family in a boarding school was life changing. For the youngest, life was like a puzzle with pieces missing.

Minal’s entire family, parents, father in law, brother, sister, and sister in law, pulled together in looking after the children while she was away.  Minal tried to stay in touch through phone calls, which wasn’t easy.   In those those days you needed calling cards, it was costly on a student budget.

Boarding school rules allowed her to talk to her son only once a month. She sensed her son was angry and distancing himself from her.   It tore at her heart, and the distance frustrated her. In a bid for some control over his life, the younger son became very stubborn around the family, and aggressive at school, Life was hard for everyone. 

Minal was out of her comfort zone, and alone in a new country.   The culture, climate, and lifestyle was foreign to her.  She had to learn the customs of New Zealand, develop new skills, find a job, and pave the way for a new life. Her focus was reuniting her family. The thought “it’s for my children” helped her get through her lowest points.

A year later, her husband joined her. Things improved and she began to see a silver lining on the dark clouds.  Her children followed two years later.   It took time to bond back together, to overcome the anger, grief and separation. It was a sacrifice that paid off in the end.

NZ gave Minal new opportunity and enormous personal growth.  It was a chance to form her own identity, rather than following the traditional role of daughter, wife and mother. It took all her courage.  As she forged new relationships, and made lasting friendships, her feelings settled.  She became happy and comfortable in her new country.  NZ is now home to her and her family.

Her past plays a great role in her cooking. On arrival in Auckland, she did miss many food items. There is more variety available now thankfully, although some favourites are still difficult to find.

The Spice box, “masala dabba”, is an integral part of her kitchen. Spices not only make the food flavourful, but also have curative properties. Chilli relieves congestion, coriander aids digestion, turmeric calms inflammation, and cumin improves immunity.

Food was once very regional in India, but now like the rest of the world, it celebrates a global fusion of flavours.

Minal has flourished, and so have her family. She loves teaching kindergarten.  Her husband Harnish is an Operational Manager, working with commercial properties.

The boys are thriving and doing well. Her oldest son is completing a conjoint commerce and arts degree. Her youngest is studying business.

Life in New Zealand is great. Her top Kiwi food is going out to breakfast.  Her favourite Kiwi activity is bush walking and hiking.  Minal has a busy life. Food however is still the heart of the family.

the recipe

 Pav bhajiA popular Mumbai street food

(serves 10) – 50 minutes to prepare


24 dinner rolls

Butter for rolls

Pav bhaji

1.5 cups boiled and mashed potato

half cup chopped cauliflower

half cup frozen or fresh peas

half cup green capsicum

1 cup finely chopped onions

2 cups finely chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp ginger & garlic mince

Salt to taste

4 tbsp butter

2 tbsp oil

3 tsp pavbahji masala *

1 tsp red chilli powder (optional)

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp rock salt, Himalayan or black salt

Juice of half a lemon

 For Garnish :  1 tsp  finely chopped coriander, 1tbsp raw onion and  wedges of lemon.

*Pavbahji masala can be sourced from any Indian store.  It is a blend of spices such as coriander, cumin, fennel, dry mango powder, dried red chillies, turmeric, pepper, cloves and cinnamon.

  (To make vegan Pav bhaji, substitute butter with  vegan butter.)


Pav (buns)

Place the slit and buttered buns into a fry pan.  Press to toast them, until golden brown both sides.

Bhaji ( Vegetable)

  1. Boil and mash potatoes.
  2. Steam cauliflower and peas until soft.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp butter with 2 tbsp oil in a large pot on medium heat.
  4. Add ginger/garlic mince and sauté a few seconds.
  5. Add chopped onions and sauté until translucent.
  6. Add chopped capsicum and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add chopped tomatoes and sauté until soft and gravy like
  8. Add all the spices ( pav bhaji masala, salt, cumin, chilli powder  rocksalt)
  9. Mix well and simmer for another 2 minutes
  10. Add cauliflower, peas and mashed potato.
  11. Using a potato masher, mash and mix well.
  12. Add ½ cup water .
  13. Mix, cover and cook on a slow heat for  5  mins.
  14. Open the pot and add the remaining 2 tbsp butter and juice of half a lemon. (2 tsp)
  15. Remove from heat.
  16. Garnish with chopped coriander.
  17. Serve  it hot with freshly toasted pav, chopped  onions and  lemon wedges on the side
  18. Enjoy it with a carbonated drink or lassi*

      *Lassi is a blend of yoghurt, water, spices and sometimes fruit.

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