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All About 'Chai Pani', the Indian Restaurant That Has Won US' Top Culinary Award

The street food restaurant in Asheville is run by five-time James Beard-nominated chef Meherwan Irani.

Updated
Indian Diaspora
3 min read
All About 'Chai Pani', the Indian Restaurant That Has Won US' Top Culinary Award
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An Indian street food restaurant called 'Chai Pani' (tea and water) in North Carolina was named America's most outstanding restaurant at the James Beard Foundation Awards in Chicago.

This is the first time that the awards are being announced in two years, after it was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of lockdowns (such as the closure of restaurants).

An outside of view of 'Chai Pani'. 

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@chaipani)

Instagram page of 'Chai Pani'. 

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@chaipani)

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Corn bhel, green mango chaat, sev batata dahi puri, aloo tikki chaat – some of the street food that feature at 'Chai Pani'.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@chaipani)

The website of the street food restaurant in Asheville, which is run by five-time James Beard-nominated chef Meherwan Irani, reads:

"Chai Pani literally means 'tea and water.' It's slang in India for going out for a cup of tea, a tasty bite, a snack, or 'a little something.' In Downtown Asheville (and now in Downtown Decatur), it means innovative, fun, affordable and delicious Indian cuisine. We'd go so far as to say it's 'mindblasting'."
Chai Pani

The awards were organised by the James Beard Foundation, which is a New York City-based national non-profit culinary arts organisation.

It is named in honor of James Beard, an American chef and cookbook author who was nicknamed the "Dean of American Cookery."

While accepting the award on stage, Irani said that "restaurants are so much greater than the sum of what's inside the four walls. A restaurant has the power to transform – transform the people that work there, transform the people that come in, transform the communities we're in, transform society. Restaurants can transform the world."

Butter paneer and rice.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@chaipani)

The restaurant is famous for its chaats – potato chaat, corn bhel, green mango chaat, and bhelpuri, among others.

Potato chaat.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@chaipani)

Corn bhel. 

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@chaipani)

Mango chaat.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@chaipani)

The New York Times, in its 2021 Restaurant List subtitled, "The 50 places in America we're most excited about right now," praised Chai Pani, and wrote that it serves "an eclectic mix of Indian street food."

The publication went on to write, "Pro tip: Go for the vada pav, a fried potato dumpling and fried green chiles slipped inside a slider bun and hit with chutney."

Vada pav.

(Photo: Instagram/@chaipani)

A range of spices at 'Chai Pani'.

(Photo: Instagram/@chaipani)

Bhapa Doi – yogurt custard topped with saffron and pistachios.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@chaipani)

The awards come in the backdrop of surging inflation, with Americans paying the highest prices for food in 40 years.

A Native American restaurant called 'Owamni' in Minneapolis, where the staff is 75 percent Indigenous, won the 'Best New Restaurant' award.

(With inputs from Bloomberg.)

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Topics:  Food   Indian Diaspora 

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