Big samosas packed with spiced potatoes, peas, and lentils; coconut chutney drizzled atop parantha — a wheat flatbread stuffed with potatoes; kurmura laddu, sweet rounds of puffed rice with jaggery syrup and almonds. These are just a few of the dishes being served by Harvinder Singh at his Roti Chai stand at Mixson. And they’re a delicious incentive to drive North Charleston on a Saturday afternoon.
After hearing endorsements from three people last week, we stopped by the pop-up Indian street food stand this weekend. There Singh sets up his dishes under the wood shed across from Básico from noon to 2 p.m. (or until food runs out) every Saturday. When we showed up around 1:30 p.m., it was clear there had been an early rush. After a bite of Singh’s fried tilapia marinated with a mixture of red chili, onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, clove, cinnamon, turmeric, and carom seeds, it was easy to see why — this is a new taste from the Indian food we’ve had before. And Singh says, there’s a good reason for that.
Singh is a native of Jammu, India. “It’s a small city near the Himalayan mountains and Pakistan border,” he explains. There he says, street food is extremely common. But unlike the dishes available at local Indian restaurants, Singh says the food of his region in the North is completely different. “We don’t have curries like they serve here,” he says. “That’s more of a southern dish.” Instead, Pakistani and Chinese flavors have influenced the taste of his home. Now Singh is determined to share those tastes with Charlestonians and he’s working on a Kickstarter to fund his own Roti Chai food truck.
“I want to go to where the people are,” he says. Then, after cultivating a following, maybe two years down the line, Singh hopes to open a brick-and-mortar store. If he manages to acquire the cash, we can assume he won’t run your average food truck. Singh comes from a five-star hotel background. After getting his bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, he worked at the Oberois Hotel and Resort in Delhi. Then Singh moved to Miami, Fla. to get his masters in hospitality management and took a job at the swank Setai Hotel on South Beach. His latest position was at The Umstead Hotel and Spa’s five-star restaurant Herons in Cary, N.C.
“My wife got a position at Trident,” he says. “That’s why we moved to Charleston.” Hospitality friends encouraged him to pursue his food truck idea here because, Singh says, “They said Charleston has a great food community.”
They got that right. While Singh’s Kickstarter goal is a lofty $20,000, we hope he gets his food truck underway somehow. Between a soothing glass of his mango lassi (a drink made from buttermilk, yogurt, and mangos) to his pakoras — a fritter made of fried cabbage, onion, and potato mixed into chickpea flour — what Singh is creating with his Roti Chai is certainly something we’d like to taste more of.