CHAI PANI: ALWAYS A VIABLE OPTION FOR LUNCH
Whenever I’m downtown, and I’m like, “Whaaaadoo I want for luhhhhnuch???” and I’m all indecisive, and feeling sick and tired of everything but cheeseburgers, and I know that I’m going to Hell if I eat one more cheeseburger this week, and in fact, I am kinda tired of eating meat actually. Meat meat meat. I sure do eat a lot of animals, and sometimes that wears on me. Fer reals.
Most of the time, I harden my heart, gird my gut, and I’m all good to go. “Line ’em up and chop ’em heads off, so I can shove they charred remains inside of me!” …is my unofficial motto. Occasionally, however — more and more often to be honest — I crave a meatless meal, and it’s at those times that I find my thoughts turning toward the colorful storefront, menu, and decor of good ol’ Chai Pani, who always have delicious vegetarian options on their menu and daily specials that never disappoint.
Don’t get me wrong, I also go there to eat the shit out of some chicken pakoras and other meaty treats, but this review is about the killer vegetarian lunch I ate there recently.
I love the interior decor of Chai Pani. It’s totally unique and clever and bright and friendly. The staff is likewise just as friendly. They have always been friendly to me, long before I started writing about food. I’m a quasi-semi-regular customer, and I’m a friendly person who isn’t a fucking hassle to deal with, so of course they’re nice to me, and I guarantee that they’ll be nice to you too. Start by being nice to them. That’s always a good place to begin any relationship.
This fine day, I ordered the Vegetarian Thali (pictured above) and as I always say — and I do mean always, until my friends wanna punch me in the neck — “Good Gahlly, That’s Good Thali!” Yep. Every. Single. Time. Why not? It’s totally true, and I stuffed that good thali into my face and stomach until I was full as fuck with some of the best food you can buy for lunch in downtown Asheville. If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’… and the thali isn’t even my Eat of the Week! That high honor (yeah, I was a little high) goes to the eggplant Pav Bhaji, which was an incredibly tasty, thick, deeply spiced, dark red, paste-like substance made of garlic, onions, eggplant, and other veg matter, that came with some buttered, grilled, soft white buns. Mmmmmmmm…. gaaahhhhh!!! Gimme gimme gimme.
Everyone who knows me, knows that I love soft white buns. These soft white buttered buns were the bomb, and when I spread that deep red veg paste on a bun, added some fresh cilantro: BOOM! Eat of the Week. Right there. I was already stuffed until I wanted to pop with veg thali, but I slathered-up that white bun with more plant-based-paste, and… Holy fuck… I died and was re-incarnated as a much more satisfied being. I stuffed as much as I could into my face-hole, and left feeling sated and… slightly drowsy… just like when I eat a cheeseburger! YAY!!! Cheeseburger-like satisfaction levels from a vegetarian meal is a total win / win situation if you ask me.
Speaking of asking people stuff… I texted my friend and PR guru for The Chai Pani Group, Mikey Files to ask him for a description of the Pav Bhaji, and in typical Mikey Files fashion, he came through big time. Check this out:
“Pav Bhaji is one of the most famous and ubiquitous streetfood dishes of India. It’s super popular in the streets and for good reason: it’s delicious. You can find Pav Bhaji all over India now, but it’s especially popular in Mumbai. Legend has it that it originated in the 1850s as a fast lunchtime dish for textile workers in Mumbai. The method of making it is that you basically set up a big metal dish, put a fire under it, and then throw a bunch of butter, veggies, and spices and mash it up. It’s a simple set up that you see all over India yielding delicious results.
What goes into Pav Bhaji will vary from vendor to vendor, but our basic build is a popular one: garlic, green chile peppers, onion, fresh ginger, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, house Pav Bhaji masala, lemon juice, green chile peppers, and lots of butter with some variations here and there.
Pav Bhaji is always served with grilled and buttered Pav (sliced bread rolls) as well. Pav is actually a type of bread very specific to India. It is actually a remnant of the Portuguese colonization of India that remains to this day. In Hawai’i, Portuguese bread rolls morphed into Hawaiian sweet rolls, in India they became Pav (Pronounced pow). They are not as sweet and a good bit less dense, and Indians love using them in various street dishes. We have worked with a local baker to get them just right, the Indian way. There’s nothing better than spooning that delicious buttery gravy (Bhaji) on some Pav and eating some Pav Bhaji.”
Mike Files, ladies and gentlemen. Is he the best or what?
Mikey even made a fuckin’ movie about Chai Pani called “Cutting Chai.” It’s premiering here in Asheville on Thursday, November 3 at 7 PM – 8 PM at the Grail Movie House (45 S French Broad Ave, Asheville tickets: ticketing.us.veezi.com) Here’s a excerpt from Mikey’s awesome press release about the movie:
“The film covers one of the South’s most notable Indian street food concepts as two-time James Beard-nominated chef Meherwan Irani and his Chai Pani crew of head chefs take a ramshackle culinary adventure through India, hitting 10 cities in10 days by planes, trains, and auto-rickshaws, eating everything in sight.”
Chai Pani is always a viable lunchtime choice for me, whether I’m in a veg mood or a meat mood, and especially when I’m at a loss of where else to eat. It’s always there for me, for us, the Asheville Downtown Eaters. They have good hours of operation, the food is always interesting, ever-changing, and consistent as can be in terms of quality of ingredients and adept preparation. It’s one of the best and most unique restaurants in downtown Asheville, and the level of success they’ve had is completely in keeping with the high level of food and service they provide.
Thanks Chai Pani, for a lot of stuff, but for now, thanks especially for the Pav Bhaji, which was fucking excellent, and brand new and different to me, and introduced me to this “Pav” bread stuff, which is now one of my favorite things ever, and that’s why this dish is my EAT OF THE WEEK!
Address: 22 Battery Park Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Friday 11:30AM–3:30PM, 5:30–10:30PM
Saturday 11:30AM–3:30PM, 5:30–10:30PM
Sunday 12–3:30PM, 5–9:30PM
Monday 11:30AM–3:30PM, 5–9:30PM
Tuesday 11:30AM–3:30PM, 5–9:30PM
Wednesday 11:30AM–3:30PM, 5–9:30PM
Thursday 11:30AM–3:30PM, 5–9:30PM
Phone: (828) 254-4003
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
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