Six years ago, Shitija Nahata started Cupcake Company and introduced Chennai to delicious cupcakes. Despite what she and her husband thought, cupcakes became incredibly popular in the city and tons of other cupcake shops followed. A few years later, Shitija opened Kitchen 187, a creperie and cafe, right next door to Cupcake Company. While the creperie is now closed and something else has come in its place, Shitija promises that this is not the end of Kitchen 187. Since her family is purely vegetarian, running a restaurant that serves non-vegetarian food, the restaurant is looking for a new home.
But her new restaurant, Chai Nasta is the perfect replacement for while we wait. Serving snacks and delicious other street food like dishes that will satisfy your cravings at any given time of the day. We sat down with Shitija to talk about the restaurant and try some food and asked her how she came up with the idea. Street food is incredibly popular in the city, but not necessarily the kind of places you’d want to sit down at and enjoy a quick plate of vada pav or samosas. And in the evenings, when you’re craving a quick bite to eat, where can you go that you can be assured serves good and clean food? “I was telling him, we should do something where you can give somebody a nice ambience where you can eat Indian food, because why doesn’t anybody give Indian food the place that it deserves?”
The restaurant has been open for a week, but according to Shitija people have been coming back over and over since their first visit. And that too without any advertising or marketing, just based on word of mouth – which is exactly how all restaurants should work. And there’s a reason, because the food on the menu is so unique and as Shitija told us, “There are so many things to try and it’s not food that you’re going to get bored of. Some of my friends came over earlier today and they said that something like the Marathi Poha, you won’t get it anywhere else and if you do get it, then it’s a really bland version and not equivalent to what you have at home.”
And their ethos, as Shitija explained, hasn’t changed since Cupcake Company opened – everything is made fresh and everything is done from scratch. Including the mango achaar that is served with the aloo paratha that is made every morning for the day.
Snakes on our table
(PS. Their menu reads “All Day Snakes”, it’s not really about snakes!)
Of course, we started our afternoon off with hot glasses of Masala Chai, which is what goes best with the food that is on the menu. Every masala you can think of, is added to the tea and it is the most exquisite glass of tea that you can have.
The one thing on the menu that we were sure we had to have was the Vada Pav, because it’s definitely something that needs to be tried. The pav, sourced from a very special and almost secret place, is soft and perfect. You don’t struggle to bite into this because it is perfectly toasted and buttered and then of course there’s the vada itself, which is soft and delicious.
Next on our table was the Aloo Paratha which was served with a katori of dahi and a little mango achaar and a pickled green chilli that is stuffed with enough masala to lessen the spiciness. Soft and tasty, this aloo paratha will definitely make a perfect snack.
We also had a helping of the Chilli Paneer! As Shitija explained, if you’ve ever eaten the chilli paneer from the street vendors in Delhi, the food has a Chinese influence. So the Indo-Chinese street creation is available here as well and it looks the same!
The Marathi Poha is similar to what you would usually have in terms of poha, but also different. It’s a unique kind of poha that is popularly made in Maharashtrian homes. And if you eat it with the red chilli garlic chutney, you are set for life.
And finally, the snack affair was completed with a helping of Malai Kulfi which is sourced from Parsi Dairy in Mumbai – who also makes some of the best kulfi in the country.
Not pictured is a helping of Bun Maska, a regular treat that is served with coffee or tea at restaurants. According to Shitija, the concept of eating bun maska with a cup of tea was from Hyderabad that was then adopted in Mumbai and the rest of the country.
Chai Nasta is open from 11am onwards and they serve pure vegetarian food as well as a few Jain dishes. You can visit the cafe at 187, St Mary’s Road, Alwarpet, right next to Raintree Hotel.