Michael Andre Adams
Indian street food has struck again in the South, with this year’s arrival of Chai Pani, in Decatur, Ga., a city on the edge of Atlanta.
Chai Pani’s roots on American soil began in Asheville, N.C., with the husband-wife team of Meherwan Irani, who is the executive chef, chief chaiwala, and visionary behind the concept and menu, and Molly Irani, who directs the front of the house and orchestrated the creative and artistic aspects necessary to bring it all to fruition. Together they have created a colorful and very unique experience to please both the eyes and the palate.
Kale pakoras ($6.99) are bits of kale battered in chickpea flour. Crispy with a light crunch and gluten-free, they’re the perfect fun food. Their version of a samosa ($3.75) is a cumin-spiced, pasty-textured potato inside with a crunchy exterior that goes best with a sauce. Sev potato dahi puri, something your waiter may refer to as "spdp," is simply amazing. At $6.99, it is surprisingly cold, crunchy, and layered with flavors ranging from sweet to salty and spicy for a true "yum" experience.
Parsi red chicken curry ($9.99) lends itself to a residential experience on the west coast of India. Boneless white meat in a red coconut curry delivers a combination of heat and sweet, with the sweetness due to the sweet Kashmiri red chiles. The entrée includes basmati rice, daal (an Indian lentil soup), roti (an Indian bread made from stone-ground whole-meal flour), and raita, which is a yogurt condiment.
With its thick consistency, a sweet, rich, and flavorful mango lassi beverage ($3.75) of mango and yogurt will help balance out the marvelous spices on the palate and aid in digestion. Chai Pani also makes its own chai tea, served hot or cold. In addition to a selection of soft drinks, a list of signature cocktails is also available.
For a sweet ending, a pudding of cardamom, pistachios, and raisins with a refreshingly uplifting spiciness called kheer ($3.99). Bhapa Dai (3.99) has the consistency of a crème brûlée or flan. But it’s actually a steamed yogurt custard with almonds, pistachios, raisins, and a dash of saffron. Served chilled, it too is beautifully spiced and lusciously delicious.
If you like the idea of being festive, the upcoming Diwali Mela festival at Chai Pani, in Decatur, is right up your alley. Held on Sunday, Nov. 10, the event will showcase the culture and cuisine of India, with 50 percent of a $50 ticket going to benefit the Atlanta-based charity Go Eat Give. Indian street food and specialty cocktails, designer Indian accessories by Belsi Collection, henna tattoos provided by Indian esthetician Nargis Karimi, Bollywood music from Atlanta's renowned DJ Jaz, and prizes for the best dressed man and woman all promise to make the day special.