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Mumbai's humble eatery where Tim Cook had his vada pav moment

Swati Snacks was started by a single mother in 1963 with 4 items of 4 annas each on menu

Swati snacks

The eatery’s journey to prominence is all credit to word of mouth

Akshara Srivastava New Delhi

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When in Mumbai, do as Mumbaikars do. And that’s precisely what Tim Cook did on his visit to the city to launch India’s first Apple store at Bandra Kurla Complex. The Apple CEO, along with Bollywood actor Madhuri Dixit Nene, tucked into what is arguably Mumbai’s favourite snack: vada pav. His verdict? “Delicious.”

While vada pav has a fanbase that swears by it, Swati Snacks, the eatery Cook visited, is rated as a go-to place for it. Once a modest chaat shop at Tardeo in South Mumbai, Swati Snacks has grown to be included in the ‘Essence of Asia’ collection of venues that reflect a region’s gastronomic diversity. This list is based on recommendations from the chefs of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.

The eatery is used to celebrities and VIPs walking in. Among its patrons, it counts industrialist Mukesh Ambani and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain. Artist MF Husain was also known to frequent it when in Mumbai.

So, when they were told that Madhuri Dixit Nene would be coming for a meal, they reserved the usual quiet table in one corner. “And then Tim Cook also walked in!” says Karan Shah, director of Swati Snacks.

The story began in a home kitchen in 1963, when Minakshi Jhaveri — a single mother of two – decided to don the entrepreneur’s hat after years of coaxing by friends and family who loved her chaat preparations. With help from her family cook, Veera Maharaj, Jhaveri launched Swati Snacks with four items on the menu — sev puri, bhel puri, ragda pattice and pani puri — all priced at four aanas each.

After Jhaveri’s death in 1979, her children, Asha and Anand, took the reins.

Now in its 60th year, Swati Snacks has since grown. It has four outlets, two of which are in Ahmedabad (the family’s roots are in Gujarat) and another is at Nariman Point in Mumbai. In 2019, it also opened a cloud kitchen in Santa Cruz, Mumbai.  

Asha brought with her a sense of experimentation to the kitchen. One of her most famous introductions to the menu is panki — a rice pancake steamed in banana leaves. She also introduced satpadi roti and gatta nu shak (masala roti served with a besan curry) and fada ni khichdi (cracked wheat pulao).

“The panki was slow to pick up, but now it has become such a staple that no one leaves Swati Snacks without having ordered at least one. It is a testament to her creativity and vision,” says Shah who is Asha’s nephew.

“The idea behind introducing these dishes to the menu was to get people to the restaurant throughout the day, and not just during the afternoon or evening for a light snack,” he adds.

At 76, Asha still does the morning tasting at the central kitchen of the chain and continues to work on the menu, innovating with seasonal ingredients. This season’s specials are jowar and makai bhel, a replacement for ponk bhel, which is made of millets available only in winter.

The eatery’s journey to prominence is all credit to word of mouth.

"Even when it was a tiny place, we would see people waiting in line to get in. Swati is an unmissable spot," says Nisha Nanavaty, a teacher who moved to Tardeo 21 years ago and who has seen the eatery’s popularity skyrocket. Nanavaty's favourite offering on the menu is pani puri. "I really like their food. There is something for everyone... I think it is their authenticity that sets them apart."

Shah says they have never spent a rupee on advertising Swati Snacks or telling people to come visit it. “Our growth was very organic and natural.”

Instances like Cook’s visit only add to the fervour and buzz around this humble eatery that has grown to become an integral part of Mumbai’s culinary culture. With visitors and queries pouring in from across Mumbai and beyond since the Apple CEO dined here, demand for vada pav at all of its four outlets has shot through the roof.

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First Published: Apr 19 2023 | 7:35 PM IST

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