The arrival of Decatur's Chai Pani, an Indian restaurant that originated in Asheville, seems to have spurred a citywide craving for Mumbai-style street food snacks. But for those unfamiliar with the specifics of this trend, we spoke with Chai Pani owner and chef Meherwan Irani. Below, he compares traditional Indian street food dishes to common American eats:
If you like kale chips … try okra fries
Thinly sliced, flash-fried okra is served alongside sandwiches and wraps as an alternative to French fries. Chai Pani also serves kale pakoras (see below), but they are thicker with more “breading” than typical kale chips.
If you like fried calamari (or fried anything, really) … try kale pakoras
Fresh kale is flash-fried in a curried chickpea batter and served up with green chutney and sweet yogurt. The curried batter is so thick and crunchy, the kale is almost an afterthought.
If you like sloppy Joes … try Chai Pani's "sloppy jai"
A traditional Indian sandwich known as Kheema Pav, the sloppy Jai features spicy lamb simmered with tomatoes, ginger and aromatic spices and served with onions, cilantro, green chutney and sweet yogurt served on a toasted bun. Get ready for a mess! For a vegetarian take, try the pav bhaji Gokul Sweets in Decatur, which stars a vegetable curry on breads that resemble miniature hamburger buns.
If you like savory crepes ... try uttapam
Similar to a pancake, this South Indian specialty is made from rice and lentil batter served with a variety of toppings and sambar, a spicy, tangy vegetable stew. At Chai Pani, uttapam come with a choice of carrots, peas, onion, cilantro, ginger, and chilies, or tomato, Amul cheese, onion, cilantro, ginger, and chilies.
If you like smoothies … try mango lassi
This traditional Indian drink includes chilled yogurt, sweet mango pulp, and cardamom.
If you like hot dogs … try vada pav
Though vada pav is vegetarian and does not taste like a hot dog, it is India's cultural equivalent. The dish is comprised of spicy potato dumplings fried in curried chickpea batter, topped with green and tamarind chutneys, and served on toasted buns. They’re served every street corner—just like hot dogs are in New York.
If you like sushi (including veggie rolls) … try sev potato dahi puri
Designed to be eaten in one bite (for fear of creating a mess), this dish is made up of savory puffed flour crisps (puris) stuffed with potatoes, onions, cilantro, and crunchy chickpea noodles, and topped with sweet yogurt, tamarind and green chutneys.
If you like turnovers (or even Hot Pockets) … try a samosa
A fried pastry shell is stuffed with spicy cumin-scented potatoes and topped with tamarind and green chutneys.
If you like pudding … try kheer
This Indian rice pudding is made with coconut milk, raisins, and nuts. It’s meant as a dessert or comfort food.
Indian Street Food Around Town
Chai Pani may be bringing Indian street food front and center, but other Atlanta restaurants have been serving it for years. Try the following for variety:
Location: Dekalb Industrial Way, Decatur
Known for: Snacks called chaat (croquettes, potatoes, spiced crackers and samosas with sauces and crunchy toppings)
Location: Off Briarcliff Road, Atlanta
Known for: Aloo tikki (potato cakes with spiced chickpeas and chutneys) and bhel puri (potatoes, onions, and chutneys over puffed rice and fried noodles)
Location: Lawrenceville Highway, Decatur
Known for: Samosas and gulab jamin (fritters with syrup)
Masala Fresh Food Truck
Location: Atlanta Food Truck Park
Known for: Masala fries, samosas, and naan (Indian bread) wraps filled with traditional chicken tikka masala or lamb masala and a choice of sauces