Tawa Pulao

Tawa PulaoWhen Desi and I lived in Mumbai — or Bombay as those of us who left the city in those days still like to call it — there were nights, after wrapping up the graveyard shift at the newspaper we both worked for, when we would set out with co-workers and friends to scour the city’s streets for food.

Like New York City, Bombay never sleeps. Anywhere you are in the city at night, you can be guaranteed that it will never be quiet, the way things can sometimes be even during the day in some Washington neighborhoods. Cabbies, the homeless, people stuck after work without a way to get home after the last train chugged out of the station at 1 a.m., night owls, young men and women too busy having fun — or just too bored — to go home. Bombayites of every stripe stalk the city’s streets each night, and their very presence creates a very basic need, for food.

Tawa PulaoWhile 24-hour eateries and supermarkets are not easily found in Bombay the way they are in New York or London — or at least they weren’t when I lived there — there is no shortage of food. That’s because come night, food carts (small, wooden carts on wheels that are pushed around manually) spring to life, creating little oases for the hungry and the bored and just about everyone in between. The food they sell is cheap, almost always delicious, and healthy — nutritionally — although perhaps not hygienic.

If you are a regular, you know where the best places to eat are. Back then, there was the guy who sold incredible kabobs on one of the streets around Gateway of India. And the man who sold the tastiest bhurji-pav outside Dadar Station. Or if you were lucky, it would be the month of Ramadan and Mohammad Ali Road  would come alive after midnight with rows upon rows of food vendors selling everything from fresh breads and spicy curries to  malpuas and phirnis. The vendors of Mohammad Ali Road sprung up decades ago to cater to Muslims looking to break their fast each night, but stayed on to satisfy the city’s foodies who descend on this mecca of food in droves.

One of the vegetarian foods we’d often come across during our post-midnight bingeing tours in Bombay is Tawa Pulao, a delicious and rather simple Indian-style stir-fry of rice and vegetables.

Tawa pulao is named thus because the stir-frying — a technique very similar to that used to make Chinese stir-fried rice — is done on an enormous, slightly curved skillet called a Tawa or Tava. The vendor portions out the tawa for different foods, all being cooked at the same time. In one quarter is the bhaji for pav-bhaji getting warmed up before being spooned onto plates, and right next to it are the yellow-gold patties  for ragda-pattice, staying warm until a customer comes calling for them. In the remaining half of the tawa, the vendor — rapidly maneuvering a  steel ladle that makes loud, metallic but rhythmic sounds as it scrapes against the tava  — is stir-frying some onions, tomatoes and green peppers for the Tawa Pulao.

It smells amazing.

tava pulao

If you are new to Indian cooking, or just want to cook something that takes you into the city’s belly without actually going there, I’d recommend the Tawa Pulao. This is a strikingly easy recipe, because a lot of the flavor comes from an addition straight out of the packet: pav bhaji masala. You can make your own, but this is one powdered spice that I — as much as I love making spices from scratch — prefer to buy pre-made because when you make it at home you can’t always get the flavor just as it should be. If you happen to have a large wok, the kind you’d use for a Chinese stir-fry, this is the time to break it out of the cupboard.

Tawa Pulao, in Indian kitchens, often gets cooked with leftover rice, partly because there’s no better way to eat leftover rice, but also because the slightly harder texture of leftover rice is perfect for the skillet and all that stir-frying. Too-soft, fresh rice would mush up. If you don’t have leftover rice, or don’t have time to make some beforehand for this dish, try spreading it out on a single layer on a cookie sheet, after the rice is cooked, to let the moisture evaporate.


Tawa Pulao

Tawa Pulao
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4
  • 1 cup rice. (white is traditional, but you can use brown. Cook until tender but not mushy.)
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1-inch knob of ginger, grated
  • 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped, or 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 green bell pepper or capsicum, finely chopped
  • 2 potatoes, boiled and cubed
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 tbsp pav bhaji masala
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil (use canola or peanut or sesame oil, but not olive)
  • Coriander leaves or spring onions, chopped, for garnish
  1. Heat the oil in the wok.
  2. Add the onions and, working constantly over the highest heat setting on your burner, stir-fry them until they start to just change color.
  3. Add the ginger and green peppers and stir-fry for another couple of minutes or until the bell peppers begin to soften.
  4. Add the cayenne, turmeric, and pav bhaji masala and stir well. Add the chopped tomatoes or tomato puree and cook, stirring frequently, about two minutes. Add the green peas and potatoes and stir-fry for a minute.
  5. Add the rice and stir-fry, mixing everything thoroughly, another two to three minutes.
  6. Turn off heat, add the lemon juice and garnish with coriander leaves or spring onions, or both.
  7. Serve piping hot.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 338 Fiber: 7.5 grams Protein: 8.6 grams


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  1. says

    I am so excited to try all your recipes, I just found HolyCow two days ago. I saw in this recipe that you had potatoes in the ingredients, but I didn’t see where you added it to the mixture. Can you clarify?

    • says

      EMWV, Thanks! So happy you enjoy reading my Bombay ramblings. It’s just such a wonderful city, I cannot get it out of my system after so many years. :)

  2. abc says

    Awesome recipe Vaishali. Will try it will Quinoa or Brown Rice. Thanks to you, I don’t have to buy Tawa Pulao Masala, have Pav Bhaji Masala at home :)

    I really have to appreciate cooking skills of those food vendors. Cooking 4 things on same tava, plus serving customers awesome food seems a very daunting task.

    • says

      Hi Mukta, yes, this tastes best with pav bhaji masala. I hope you will try it. And yes, those guys are amazing, aren’t they? One has to be whip-smart to multitask so beautifully amidst all the crowds and noise. :)

  3. Shani says

    Wow! I will have to try this! My dad makes something similar and it is delicious! I’m sure this will be too :) p.s. Just wondering after you left India, whether you visit often? Once you live somewhere for a large part of your life, it’s hard not to miss it! (Loved your description of Mumbai!)
    Beautiful recipes, I check yours and vegan Richas blogs every day to check for new recipes. You two are amazing!!!

    • says

      Thanks, Shani. :) I don’t visit India as much as I want to, but I aim for every two to three years. I need to go more often, now that my dad is aging and I feel like spending more time with him.

      • Shani says

        I totally understand! :) even I go every 2 years – the main reason is to spend precious time with family. plus, the food and the shopping is great too!
        Keep up the amazing recipes! Thanks for sharing them with us :)
        I tried this pulao with brown rice and it was delish!

  4. mark says

    hi, i was sent a link to your website by a friend. I`ve just cooked this for a quick dinner after a bike ride and it`s absolutely delicious, will recommend your site to all my friends

  5. Sheela says

    Hey Vaishali,

    Lovely pictures and yummy recipe: :-)
    You are on a memory roll…simple tasty appetizing recipe.
    I have never tried with aloo, will follow your recipe the next time I plan to make Tawa Pulao.
    Also, my color is never rich as your pic looks…lovely! Any tricks to keep in mind?
    I feel this recipe is a cousin of pav Bhaji…

    Thanks for sharing.

    A big hug

    • says

      Hi Sheela, I’ve been having trouble getting comments to appear on the blog, for some reason, and I just realized that my reply to you never posted. I have to figure it out. Meanwhile, hoping this one will appear. The color is because of the tomato puree. :) And yes, it does feel like a cousin of Pav Bhaji, doesn’t it? :)
      Hug back to you.

  6. Louise says

    Hi! I’ve just discovered your blog after recently becoming vegan :) can’t wait to try some recipes. In this one, you say not to use olive oil, I’m just wondering why?

    Many thanks! :)

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