Recently, Lis from the Daring Kitchen asked for people to write for their Food Talk section. I jumped at the chance, as I have been trying to refine my writing skills, not just food writing, but writing in general. I chose the topic 'Chai' or 'Indian Tea', and you can read the article here.
I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to come by and give me your criticisms, I always welcome feedback and appreciate it very much.
As a bit of a tie-in to the chai theme, I also wanted to let you all know about some of the places I enjoy hanging out in Edmonton. I am no reviewer, and neither am I am expert on various cuisines. But I know what I like, and so this feature is going to be on a recent addition to Edmonton's food and cafe scene, Chai Pani on Whyte Avenue.
'Pappppooo, chai pani leke aana' (Pappu, bring some tea-water) is a relatively familiar phrase for those of us who have lived in India. In fact, shopping in India can be so enjoyable, as most of the places we visit serve us chai pani, or thanda (cold drink) Its not only Indian, though, as a lot of far Eastern countries have a similar concept of cafes, or a place to have chai pani attached to them.
I stumbled on to Edmonton's Chai Pani by accident, as I was returning from a trip to the doctor's office. It is a stylishly decorated place, attached to a boutique and tucked away on 105 St, just adjacent to the Chapters on Whyte Avenue. It was the name that caught my eye, at first. I love chai, as you probably already know. For me, nothing evokes India, as much as a steaming hot, spicy cup of chai. So I was certainly intrigued enough to step inside Chai Pani. Almost as soon as I stepped in, I was greeted by Usha Gupta, the noted Indian danceuse, and also the mum of Arti Mittal, one of Chai Pani's owners. She greeted me like she'd known me all my life, and welcomed me into the little cafe. By this time, I was already feeling well loved, and let me assure you, I don't always feel like this when entering restaurants or cafe.
The overwhelming Indian hospitality was one of the reasons I decided to do this feature. I was lucky enough to also be introduced to Angeli Verma, the co-owner of this cosy cafe. Struck by inspiration, I asked her if she would be willing to talk to me about the cafe, and we agreed to meet up the next day.
In between all this, I ordered a cup of chai and a samosa. The chai quite hit the spot, I must admit. I am no food snob, but I appreciate a well made cup of masala tea, as much as any Indian. The chai was delicious, and I quite liked that Chai Pani doesn't sweeten it, leaving it up to the customer's discretion. Of course, I am one that adds loads of sugar to mine anyway, but we'll not go into that right now. The samosa was certainly tasty, with a delicately crisp pastry, with a well spiced filling. Just perfect for a light evening snack. So, Chai Pani has certainly got its food and drinks in order, along with a whole collection of organic coffees and herbal teas, in addition to light snacks and entrees.
Angeli Verma, Co-owner of Chai Pani
The next day, I spoke with Angeli about her vision for Chai Pani, and what it means to her. Angeli was born in New Delhi and is a frequent visitor back to India. She has lived in Edmonton most of her life, other than a spell in Toronto and Montreal. She moved back to Edmonton to be closer to her family, something I related to almost immediatley, as we had done the same a year and half ago.
Angeli and Arti derive their inspiration for Chai Pani from their extensive travels around India and Bali. Chai Pani, as it stands, is attached to their boutique Lola, selling clothes and accessories which they source from all over India and Indonesia. Chai Pani emerged out of their desire to add to the customer experience at Lola, and also by the 'chai pani' culture from which they source their products. Their vision is a chic cafe where customers can feel at ease, whether browsing through the store, or sampling a selection of coffees, entrees, snacks and the ubiquitous chai, of course. The cafe is modelled on the Vancouver eatery 'Rangoli', and offers not just a unique perspective on Indian food, but also a relaxed atmosphere and attitude.
Angeli was quite keen to emphasis that while Edmonton has its Indian restaurants, Chai Pani is quite different in it attitude to, and execution of Indian food. Coming from an Indian background myself, I can certainly see the difference. Angeli wants the food at Chai Pani to reflect the new Indian ethos of eating, concentrating on fresh, local produce as well as lighter, healthier fusion dishes.
While the food and drinks certainly take centre stage at Chai Pani, its ambience and atmosphere are no less impressive. The cafe gives the impression of being warmly welcoming and relaxing almost immediately, and the decor is unusual and interesting. The furniture is mainly from Bali, and is well suited for the concept, and has induced much envy from me, of course. Angeli and Arti have sourced paintings and photographs from all over the subcontinent, as well as from local photographer Con Boland, whose vibrant pictures add to the artsy style of the cafe, and are an interesting talking point.
Chai Pani's customers range from university students, harking for a taste of home to professionals for whom ambience the is just as important as the food. For a relatively recent arrival on Whyte Avenue, the cafe has also been embraced by the local Indian community and Edmonton foodies. Angeli sees cafes like Chai Pani as the future of Whyte Avenue, the return of independent stores and small places where people feel comfortable and welcomed. Future plans include being able to serve wines, as well as establishing a presence in the area and listening to the views of customers on how Chai Pani can continue to be at the forefront of serving great food and drinks in a beautiful location.
As Angeli puts it, Indians are well known for their hospitality, and that warm, welcoming attitude is what they strive to achieve with Chai Pani. Personally, I say that they are well on their way to doing just that and I love the fact that Whyte Ave has a place like this, where I can go to chill, glug a mug of chai, and feel completely welcomed and relaxed.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed in this article are mine. I interviewed Angeli Verma for this article. I was not paid or compensated in any way for this article.