If you’ve ever been to Gujarat, you would have stumbled upon the humble Dabeli, a potato and bun based sweet snack oozing with flavoursome chutneys and speckled with pomegranate pearls. Now, the popular snack has made its journey to other parts of the country as well accumulating admirers along the way, most significantly in its neighbouring state, Maharashtra. By Bayar Jain
A bite into the sweet-tangy Dabeli is sure to give you an outburst of myriad flavours in your mouth. Whether you find a penchant for the mid-time snack is a different matter, but its ardent following cannot be negated in any respect. Arguably a predecessor to the ubiquitous Maharashtrian vada pav, the two share the commonality of being bun and potato-based. The Gujarati dish, however, strays from this link by being laden with a mix of sweet-sour chutneys (made using garlic, tamarind, red chilli, and dates); and roasted peanuts, fresh pomegranate pearls and crunchy sev as a garnish. Moreover, it is stacked together like a regular burger and literally squashed down to complete the plating. Hence the name, Dabeli – meaning ‘pressed down’ in Gujarati.
Over the years of Dabeli’s existence, its first name has been erased by the mainstream. Its original name, however, doubles as a hint to its origins – Kutchi Dabeli. Legend has it that the snack first came into existence in Mandvi, a small city in the Kutch region of the western state. It is believed that in the 1960s, a man named Keshavji Gabha Chudasama – or simply Kesha Malam – invented it at his shop. Locals claim that when he first started selling his invention to people, he would sell it for one anna (roughly six paise). Today, while he no longer serves the delicacy himself, the shop continues to run by his descendants. The recipe – it is claimed – remains unchanged.
At around the same time, the then Bombay state split into two: Maharashtra and Gujarat. As a result, communities also migrated. Over the years, Maharashtra developed as an aspirational state for better trade and people from Gujarat would cross the new borders for work. The Dabeli accompanied and found a new audience to woo.
Today, this ‘Indian burger’ has a following throughout the country. While the Kutch region continues to stake its claim over the recipe, the snack is now readily available throughout major metropolitans like Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, New Delhi, Indore, and more. In fact, snack-making brands have also jumped onto the bandwagon, selling pre-made mixes for the potato filling, flavoursome chutneys, and even special Dabeli pavs (buns). Street-side stalls across the country have even started whipping up variations of it by creating Cheese Dabelis (at Manisha Bhel Panipuri Snacks Centre in Pune) or dry fruit-infused one (at Delite Chaat House in Bengaluru). This love for the snack is so widespread that a few restaurants in Mumbai serve variations of just this one dish, such as at Matunga Dabeli.
However, if you’re a lover of all things traditional and prefer foods that don’t tamper with the original flavours, then head straight to Ahmedabad, Surat, and other Kutch areas of the state. Here, the street-side stalls begin their days early, all ready to serve customers before the office goers begin their day. The portable snack – still largely sold at cheap rates such as INR 20 to 25 – is then available all throughout the day.