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Sharing some Virtual ‘Chai Pani’ with Chef Peach

I don’t recall when/how I stumbled upon Daniel Peach’s blog. One post in, and I was hooked. Here was an American guy traveling in India, eating at roadside joints, staying with friends, unearthing hidden recipes, cooking at local restaurants… I couldn’t help marveling at his sense of adventure and freedom that allowed him to experience India so fearlessly through his heart and senses.

One post, then another, another… I think I read the entire blog end-to-end. Wrote to Daniel and he responded. I came to know that he was moving to Atlanta to cook at the hip-n-trendy Chai Pani. We have been planning to meet up for a while now… hopefully, our plans will materialize soon. Anyway, I became curious to know more about Daniel’s journey into the world of food, Indian culture, spirituality, etc. He agreed to do an email interview for me, and voila, here is the end result.

Q. How did you develop an interest in Indian cuisine?

A: My first real exposure to Indian cuisine came through Ayurveda. This was back in 2007. Over the next two years my interest in India grew immensely after reading several books on meditation and yoga as well as Indian spiritual classics like the Upanishads and the Gita, and it seemed like everywhere I went India just kept popping up at me. I even randomly purchased a book called ‘Teach Yourself: Hindi’ which 2 years later got me started on learning Hindi.

Daniel Peach, Chef, Chai Pani

Daniel Peach, Chef, Chai Pani

In 2009 I decided to move to Asheville and started looking for a job. I had been working as a cook in an Italian restaurant in Charleston, SC so I was excited when the first (literally, very first) post on Asheville’s Craigslist was for Chai Pani, a new fast casual Indian street food restaurant that was getting ready to open. I knew how to cook and it seemed in line with my personal interests.

I got the job at Chai Pani and Meherwan, the owner, had his mom come from India to train us on her food. On numerous occasions I would taste things I’d never seen or heard of and be instantly engulfed with a strange, unplaceable nostalgia. Specifically when I first ate some besan barfi It drove me nuts because it was so familiar but I couldn’t figure out why. I sort of, by default, became the main cook at Chai Pani Asheville and spent a lot of my free time experimenting with different recipes and researching as much as I could about Indian cuisine.

I think my interest culminated in me going to India for the first time in 2011. I studied Hindi from the book I had bought years before and went to travel around India for 6 months.

Since then I’ve been to India several times, cooked in all kinds of restaurants, hotels, sweet shops, and homes and made lots and lots of friends.

Tasting the food in India and meeting the people who cook it every day completely changed the way I understood the cuisine and how I cook it. Eating in homes was especially enlightening, being brought roti after roti and pleading with my host to not pile any more food on my plate. I also love Indian street food, and tasting all of the varieties of street snacks amidst the traffic and hulla brought the whole thing into perspective. There is nothing like drinking chai out of a clay cup on the street in the morning or leaning on your friends bike next to a chaat stall and having some bhel puri in the evening. Late night desi-chinese at Juhu? Come on! I could have never gone to India and still been able to cook all those dishes, but going there and experiencing it has inspired my cooking and career in a very special way.

Indian food is not subtle. Especially street food. It’s bright, in your face. You know come to think of it really nothing in India is subtle (acting, music volume levels, clothing…even AC is either terrible or Arctic blast cold) I love that about Indian food, and the unbelievable diversity in Indian cuisine is so underrepresented in America.

There is so much history in all of the dishes yet cooks in India are, for the most part, still open to experimenting with new things and adopting whatever cooking techniques or ingredients may come their way. Also I love how much pride Indians take in their food, it reminds me of how we here in the South squabble over how barbecue sauce should be made or which coasts have the better shrimp. I recall seeing a man from Delhi in Bombay on business shouting at a street vendor selling poori sabji (“Yeh kya aloo hai?? saale har cheez mein curry patthe daalne chahiye??”) (Loosely translated as, Is this potato? Should you add curry leaves to everything?). Food tells a story, and I think Indian food is a perfect representation of the diverse, ancient, loud yet sublime country that is India.

Jai Hind.

(To be continued…) (All pictures, courtesy Daniel Peach.)

Interview with Sucheta Rawal, Founder of Go Eat Give

Go Eat Give is a non-profit organization based in Atlanta that connects three favorite interests of people: traveling, food and volunteering. When I first heard of Go Eat Give, I marveled at the ingenuity of the founder Sucheta Rawal who had alighted on this winning combination. I wonder if a better way exists that can bring people together in a spirit of service, curiosity and adventure. Also, my inner wordsmith loves Go Eat Give’s tagline – Connecting People, Places and Palates!

Sucheta is an avid traveler herself who dreams of visiting every country on the planet. She is also an accomplished cook who holds classes and demonstrations around Atlanta. Here is her story.

Sucheta Rawal, Spain

Sucheta Rawal, Spain

When and how did you get bitten by the travel bug?
My first international trip was to USA when I was 16. Up until I graduated with my masters and started working, I really did not have any money to travel. But once I was earning a decent living at an investment bank, I started taking 4 big trips every year. The more I traveled, the more I got addicted to it. The bug of seeing the whole world bit me about 8 years ago!

Love the concept of combining volunteerism, traveling and food! How did you hit on this deadly combination? 🙂
After visiting 30 countries for leisure, I felt the experience was getting rather repetitive. I would stay in a hotel, eat at restaurants recommended by guide books & get photos of attractions that everyone else had. Even the souvenirs began to look all the same! I chanced upon an organization that offered volunteer vacation packages & went with them to Russia & Morocco. I loved the fact that I got to eat home cooked meals, interacted with the locals, learned so much about the culture & also gave back to the community. I have always been involved in community service all my life, and writing about food & teaching cooking classes since 2003. All those 3 aspects – travel, food & service were so close to my heart, the combination seemed very natural.

Tough question coming up… What are the top 3 favorite places you have visited?
Yes, that’s tough, like having to choose your favorite kid! I love the rich art, culture and architecture of Vienna; the never ending bazaars in Morocco; and the unbelievable landscapes of Iceland.

Friends Abroad!

Friends Abroad!

Can you share a memorable experience from a trip abroad?

There are so many! Last year when visiting Rio de Janeiro, I stayed with a Brazilian lady (a complete stranger) at her home. She was extremely sweet and showed me her favorite spots in the city from beaches and rain forests to neighborhoods and restaurants. She drove me around town and even introduced me to her friends. We became very close and still talk regularly. I will never forget her kindness and sweet smile. I plan to visit her again this year.

So many trips, a long list of countries… what are the lessons you have brought home to yourself?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that no matter what the race, religion or belief, people everywhere are generally very nice. I have learned to put prejudices and stereotypes away and accept the differences among cultures. I have also first hand witnessed how people live and how little they can get by with, which has helped me appreciate everything I have. When you see people in the poorest of conditions being calm and happy all the time, you realize what is really important in life.

Around the World with Go Eat Give

Around the World with Go Eat Give

What are your favorite foods?
I love to try ethnic foods. Anything made using fresh ingredients where you can still taste the real food is very appealing to me. However, if I was stranded on an island, I could live on wine, bread and chocolate. I can never resist a good gelato!

Can you share a favorite recipe?
Here is the easiest molten chocolate cake aka chocolate soufflé I have made. When I want to spend little time in the kitchen & yet wow my guests, I make this recipe. See Easter Chocolate Leftovers.


Frannie’s Gluten Free Goodies

Frannie's Gluten Free

Frannie’s Gluten Free

A friend introduced me to Frances Shaw via email after sampling her gluten free muffins at a local event. I met Frances a week later and she was sweet enough to bring me a lovely package choc-a-full of muffins! The muffins come in six flavors – chocolate chip, banana, lemon zest, blueberry, zucchini and banana (vegan). I sampled the vegan banana muffin and gave away the others to friends who volunteered to act as tasters. I was amused to see how seriously they took the task… 🙂 Here are the snippets from the conversation.

Lemon Zest
“Zesty without being tart, crumbly texture, mildly flavored and that is good!”

“Dense but not heavy… it feels kinda compacted. There isn’t much blueberry in here!”

“Little bits of zucchini in here. Mildly sweet, I like! Coconut has a toasted flavor and adds to the crunch/crispness.”
“Less gritty than the chocolate chip one, nice flavor, not overly zucchini-y, 4 on 5.”

Chocolate Chip
“The texture is a little mealy. Is there apple sauce in there? This is not a chocolate chip muffin from heaven. Would I buy it? Probably not. But it tastes good. It has a mild sweetness that I like. I am not a fan of the chocolate-coconut combination but this was good.”

P and I sampled the vegan banana muffin. Soft and crumbly, mildly sweet and coconut-y, light and airy… I liked the toasted coconut flavor that blended excellently with the sweet banana.

Here’s Fran’s story.

Frances Shaw

Frances Shaw

“In 2009, due to my own new dietary restrictions, I began baking gluten, dairy and soy free. I had to get creative in the kitchen and began experimenting with different types of flours and milks. One night I came up with the zucchini muffin recipe using my favorite ingredients, which became a huge success with my family and friends – including those with and without food allergies! Wanting to share the experience of enjoying delicious baked goods with others who have food allergies and sensitivities inspired me to begin Frannie’s Gluten Free. We’ve taken the time to not just ensure that our products are gluten free, but healthy in other ways as well. All of our muffins are made from organic fruits and vegetables, as well as using organic eggs that have been raised free of hormones and antibiotics. From there, I went on to develop our other delicious recipes, including our vegan version of the banana muffin, so that there is a variety of flavors for everyone to enjoy.

My favorite kind of muffin varies on the time of day. Zucchini is the perfect morning muffin and chocolate chip is a delicious dessert. I love running and my current favorite after-run snack is a lemon zest muffin. It is so light and refreshing, and the organic coconut and lemon have a very tropical and rewarding taste.

The next step for Frannie’s Gluten Free is continuing to reach out to the gluten free community. I created the muffins’ recipes from medical necessity, so reaching families and children with food allergies is incredibly rewarding. As a company, we are extremely involved in the community. You can find a Frannie’s Gluten Free tent at many local races as well as at food and health events such as Farm RX and the FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) Fair.

For those with a celiac or a gluten sensitivity… if you are sharing your kitchen with products and flours that do contain gluten, be sure to thoroughly clean your workspace and baking equipment to avoid cross contamination. This is also something to keep in mind when dining out. Be sure to ask about the preparation of any gluten free items. Just because a dish on the menu claims to be gluten free does not mean that it has not been cooked with some of the same items used for dishes that contain gluten. Depending upon your level of sensitivity, this can still affect how you feel after your meal. My main tip for other gluten free bakers is to continue experimenting with new ingredients and to enjoy the challenge. You never know when you’re going to come up with a wonderful surprise!”

Naanstop Indian Street Food

Everyone loves street food and I am no exception. My occasional cravings take us to Mumbai Masala in Norcross where we tuck in to the best chaat in Atlanta, or so my inner persnickety Bombayite street food lover thinks. Mumbai Masala serves the usual routine that includes bhel puri, sev puri, ragda patties, pani puri and other delicious goodies. The food is cheap, fresh and flavorful. Actually, let me rephrase: it is fresh, flavorful and cheap. Sometimes it is a little too fiery for my sensitive taste buds but for most part, Mumbai Masala is my favorite, hands down, when it comes to Indian chaat in Atlanta. And this site bears testimony to that. Just check out the number of posts I have dedicated to this little eatery in Norcross!

Enough about Mumbai Masala; this is a post about Naanstop.

I heard about Naanstop many months ago, but given that it is located in Downtown and I neither work nor live in the neighborhood, I didn’t get a chance to visit until this week. T and I decided to go out for lunch and I thought we could go check out Naanstop, and so, off we went. Parking is a hassle in Downtown, as anyone will tell you. So we drove around the block, trying to find a place to park T’s car. When we found one, T realized that she didn’t have any quarters for the parking meter. I had a few and I fed those to the machine. I asked some of the stores around if they could give me loose change but everyone looked at me as if I was asking them for a kidney! Not very welcoming… until I walked into Dania’s Restaurant where the nice young guy behind the counter happily gave me $2 in quarters. Thanks, thanks!

Finally, we got to Naanstop, a little place on Broad Street, busy and cheerful. The menu is limited and there are only a couple of vegetarian options. It isn’t exactly Indian street food although a few of the items can be easily categorized so. Naanstop’s invention, the Naanwich (think of a pita wrap that uses a Naan instead) is a handy invention and it nicely fits in all manner of fillings and sauces.


I asked for a Naanwich with garlic Naan, Paneer Tikka Masala filling, grilled vegetables and apple-tamarind chutney. Lucky me, I got a piping hot Naan, fresh from the Tandoor, crisp and crackling. I also got a chance to see how it is made. Wish I had taken some pictures. Anyway, the Tandoor is a large pot (of stone?) with a hole at the top. The Naan dough is rolled out, a fistful (or lesser) of minced garlic is added in, and then the Naan is put inside the Tandoor, poked around with a long stick, then taken out when nicely done. You will know when it’s done, I suppose, by the toasty fragrance that fills the air. The garlic gains a slightly charred flavor, losing its sharpness, turning mild. The Paneer Tikka Masala filling was perfectly spiced, red in color. I wish Indian restaurants would stop using red food coloring; the food wouldn’t taste/look any lesser, I am sure! The apple-tamarind chutney was sweet-sour, a perfect foil to the creamy paneer, and the grilled onions/peppers provided a nice crunch to the filling.

Naanwich with Paneer Tikka Masala, Grilled Vegetables and Apple-Tamarind Chutney

I also ordered a side of fries topped with Tikka Masala and Yogurt-Cilantro Chutney. This is a BIG side, almost half a meal. Lucky for me that T was there, so we could share it. This dish is a new invention, an Indian-American fusion item and I liked it… well, a little. The chutneys turned the fries soggy in minutes and I had to throw most of them… sigh.

Fries with Chutney

Another vegetarian filling option is Chhole (chickpeas in tomato-spices sauce, for want of a better description). You can get either that or the Paneer Tikka Masala filling over basmati rice as well. I wanted to sample the Garlic Naan, so I picked the Naanwich instead.

A little detail that annoyed me a little… I noticed one of the guys behind the counter checking the temperature of the food with a thermometer. He stuck it into one of the fillings (chicken, perhaps), took it out, read the temperature. He then rinsed the thermometer in a little plastic bowl of water (that didn’t look too clear, really), then stuck it into another container. I asked him about it and he explained, (a little apologetically, I thought) that he was rinsing the thermometer between sticking it into different fillings. Looked like a situation ripe for cross-contamination issues, hmmm.

Anyway, I would love to go back to Naanstop and I would love for them to have more vegetarian options. Some ideas that come to mind: Potato Patties with Date-Tamarind Chutney, Naanwich filled with Palak/Saag Paneer, Basmati Rice Bowl with Rajma, Basmati Rice and Dal Tadka with a side of lime pickle… A list of delicious possibilities comes to mind!

64 Broad Street NW
Atlanta GA 30303