Chai Pani, a new Indian restaurant specializing in Indian street food opened up in downtown Asheville, NC, since my visit to the small mountain town a year ago. A lover of all Indian food, and now on a quest to sample the recently popular-in-America cuisine, Indian street food, we hit up Chai Pani.
Unlike Philadelphia's recently opened Tiffin Etc., which specializes in Indian street foods of the pizza, kati roll, and stuffed paratha sorts, Chai Pani serves up Indian sandwiches, chaats, parathas, uttapams, tandoori specials, and thalis — sort of a mix of street foods and items found at most Indian restaurants.
Service is casual: order at the counter and food is brought to your table in no particular order with large gaps between one dish and the other.
We started with the crispy, julienned Matchstick Okra Fries sprinkled with salt, chipotle seasoning and lime. With little flavor other than salt, these could have used a dipping sauce or a handful more of lime wedges. Quite good, though. Unlike most, I'd take fried okra over fried potatoes any day. Touted on the menu as a Mumbai favorite, Pav Bhaji is a hash of spicy potatoes and mixed vegetables cooked down into a mush on the grill and served on, at Chai Pani at least, two small Hawaiian bread buns. I would have been in favor of a neutral bun instead of the sweet Hawaiian bread, but overall not a bad way to eat a curry — especially if you were standing on the street. The Masala fries seasoned with fresh cilantro, salt, and lime were perfect and more than plentiful. The mango (?) sweetened ketchup went well with the Indian flavors of the fries. If I had known about the mango ketchup, I would have asked for some with the okra fries.
If Dahi Puri is on a menu, I will order it, so I've eaten my share of this chaat. The potato, chickpea, yogurt, sweet tamarind chutney, spicy cilantro-mint chutney, and crushed sev toppings that make up Dahi Puri matched most Dahi Puris I've had, but the fried puris at Chai Pani were not the usual thin, light, crispy puffed domes. These were thick, flat, hard and overly fried. The usual sprinkling of fiery chili powder was also missing. The Paneer Upattam, an Indian rice and lentil flour crepe topped with Indian cheese, cilantro, and fried onions was amazingly greasy from the ghee on the griddle, so I only partook in a few bites. A liberal dunking in the Sambar and coconut chutney is recommended to give flavor and spice to the mild toppings.
22 Battery Park Ave., Asheville, NC, 28801