In the last couple years, many have had to ask themselves this question and resolved that life can be different. No, life can be BETTER than it was before. The brave have pressed a mental reset button and haven't looked back!
Our friends Meherwan and Molly Irani did just that, a little over a year ago. They tell the story of a pivotal discussion while driving home from vacation in June 2009. With the real estate market crumbling beneath them, they asked each other, "How can we make a living doing something we love? What are we passionate about?" The answer? Food. They were passionate about food.
|Photo courtesy of Mountain Express.|
August 2009, in the middle of the worst economic crisis of our time, they opened the doors of Chai Pani--a 'fast-casual' restaurant focusing on affordable Indian street food. They had no experience in the restaurant business and lacked the know-how to run a professional kitchen, but they are smart and resourceful.
Meherwan's mom flew in from India to collaborate on the menu and help train the cooks. The first three days of business had such an overwhelming response, they ran out of food and had to shut the doors early! They closed shop for 3 more days to revamp their tactics. Then they reopened Chai Pani and have been kicking tail ever since!
Chai Pani just had its first birthday and has doubled all projections this year. It has received the Mountain Express Editior's Pick for 'Best New Restaurant' and 'Best Lunch' in 2009. A slightly higher honor (in my opinion) is that it has become an unofficial hangout for some well respected chefs in town!
|I couldn't get over all the spices they use. Many I had never seen before!|
Meherwan explains, India does not have a restaurant-culture like the US. Most Indians cook well, so they eat at home. When they do eat out, they grab something quick from a street vendor. What you are served at most Indian restaurants in the states is Northern Indian cuisine with a slight British influence. This food would only be served in high-end restaurants in India, not eaten by the vast population.
The Irani's dream was to intermingle street food with home-cooked dishes from all over India--and prepare them with local and organic ingredients. Meherwan reveals, "Chai Pani offers a new flavor experience for most Americans, because the food is AUTHENTIC. This is how Indians eat."
The authenticity, quality and prices keep Asheville coming back for more!
The Iranis cordially offered their Malabar Chicken Curry recipe (served on the Thali Plate) to A Spicy Perspective. A vivacious south Indian favorite with tropical flair, that seamlessly marries robust earthy flavors, heat and acidity with the rich cooling effect of coconut. Trust me, this recipe is a keeper!
Chai Pani’s Malabar Chicken Curry
2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup vegetable oil + 1 Tb.
1 ½ tsp. mustard seeds
½ tsp. fenugreek seeds
12-15 curry leaves, finely chopped
2-3 small dried red chiles (cayenne, bird)
4 cups chopped red onion (2 large onions)
2 ½ Tb. grated ginger
1 tsp. chili powder
1 ½ Tb. ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
½ cup chopped cilantro (leaves and/or stems)
3 cups chopped tomatoes
2 Tb. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. salt
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
Pour ½ cup oil in a large sauce pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, and red chiles.
Sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add the ginger and onions. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the onions to brown until they are dark and soft enough the smash with a spatula—about 25-30 minutes.
Add the chili powder, coriander, turmeric, and cilantro—mix together.
Raise the heat back to medium and add the tomatoes, salt, and lime juice. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have disintegrated and the oil separates out—15-20 minutes.
Add ½ cup of water and 1 cup coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat.
In a separate skillet, heat 1 Tb. of oil over high. Add the chicken to the skillet and brown on all sides, leaving the centers pink—2-4 minutes.
Add the chicken to the curry and simmer 5-7 minutes until the chicken has cooked through. Serve over basmati rice.
Cook's Notes: I went to a small foreign market to collect some of the unique ingredients for this recipe. There, I had no trouble finding everything on my list. Extra curry leaves can be wrapped and frozen for later use. This is a GREAT make-ahead! Letting the curry sit overnight enhances the flavors!
Asheville Locals~ It's voting time! Make sure to go to Mountain Express THIS WEEK and vote for your favorite restaurant in every category. Your votes help our restaurateurs gain exposure and keep their doors open!
Here are A SPICY PERSPECTIVE's picks:
BBQ- 12 Bones
Breakfast- Sunny Point Cafe
Burger- Packs Tavern
Caterer- Okie Dokie Smokehouse
Cheap Lunch- Chai Pani
Home-style- Tupelo Honey
Favorite- Curras Nuevo Cuisine
Fine Dining- Cucina 24
Ice cream- Kilwins
Italian- Cucina 24
Indian- Chai Pani
Late Night- The Lab
Pizza- Nona Mia
Pub Grub- The Admiral
Outdoor Eatery- Chorizo
Romantic Eatery- Red Stag Grill
Seafood- Posana (It's not a seafood restaurant but they have killer seafood dishes!)
Service- Red Stag Grill
Sweets- The Chocolate Fetish
Thai- Thai Basil
Top Chef- Corner Kitchen, Joe Scully
Vegetarian- Laughing Seed
Coffee- Izzy's Coffee Den
Best local blog/website- A SPICY PERSPECTIVE ;)