Asheville, North Carolina When Meherwan Irani arrived in the U.S. with his wife and children, he says, it was no accident they landed in the South. “I arrived here with a family and we felt like, this is home,” Irani says. “The issue wasn’t the South claiming me, it was me claiming the South.” Irani is the owner of the Chai Pani Restaurant Group, which started in Asheville with Chai Pani, a restaurant inspired by Irani’s culture and cuisine. He and other restaurateurs are using their restaurants to bring Indian culture to the South. Click through to see who, where, and how.
Atlanta, Georgia Perhaps best known for her fried chicken that was featured in David Chang’s Netflix documentary, Ugly Delicious; Asha Gomez is a restaurateur and cookbook author. The James Beard-nominated chef-owner closed her first restaurant, Cardamom Hill, in 2014. Third Space, her second concept, is a multi-functional, one-stop destination for chef demos and classes, private dinners, and tastings. From there she continues to bring the cuisine from her hometown of Kerala, India, to Atlanta’s hungry community.
Raliegh, North Carolina Cheetie Kumar is a rock star, first and foremost, and a chef. Kumar says she became the chef and owner behind Raleigh’s Garland after taking the property for its music venue, Kings. Then she realized, it had a kitchen. The self-taught cook embraces North Carolina’s culture of readily available, nationally renowned agriculture to incorporate seasonality into her cooking, which is also influenced by her Indian heritage and her upbringing in the culturally diverse Bronx, New York.
Atlanta, Georgia Farhan Momin was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Between dental school and the restaurant world, he now brings his unique pop-ups to life under the name Farmo Cooks. He calls it “wavy Indian cuisine.” He’s also co-owner of Tava Indian Bistro in Decatur, Georiga, and has appeared on ‘Master Chef.’ His take on Indian cuisine blends the flavors and ideas from his heritage with the lens of other cultures to show how connected everyone is and how food and be the medium for cultural understanding.
Richmond, Virginia Sandeep “Sunny” Baweja’s cuisine at Lehja in Richmond, Virginia, goes beyond the Americanized staples and brings forth updated versions of traditional dishes. The restaurant was called the “Best Indian restaurant outside of Washington, D.C.’s Rasika in the region,” by Todd Kliman of the Washingtonian.
Nashville, Tennessee Maneet Chauhan is a founding partner behind Nashville’s Morph Hospitality Group, the innovative restaurant group behind Tansuo, Chauhan Ale & Masala House, The Mockingbird, and Chaatable Indian Street Food. She’s also a celebrity chef and has been featured as a judge on Chopped on the Food Network. “Nashville chose me,” Chauhan says. “The South owns you.” But with four restaurants, it could be argued that Chauhan owns the South.
Durham, North Carolina Nick Singh and BJ Patel weren’t new to the restaurant industry when they opened Viceroy in Durham in 2016. The duo ran an Indian restaurant in Greenville, North Carolina, prior to opening Viceroy, a British-Indian fusion concept. In the way that the South has embraced Indian cuisine, Singh and Patel also embrace their community. The restaurant began catering to the large vegan population in Durham shortly after opening, building on its success.
Oxford, Mississippi It seems like no small feat to bring authentic Indian cuisine to a small Mississippi town, but Vishwesh Bhatt doesn’t cook traditional Indian food. At Snackbar, Bhatt serves Southern and French food with a twist—and the twist involves the flavors and techniques native to Indian cooking. For his savvy spins like garam masala fries and daal hush puppies, Bhatt has received honors from the James Beard Foundation, not to mention the delight of his clientele.
Lexington, Kentucky Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites serves traditional Sri Lankan cuisine and street food with Southern-inspired fusion. The restaurant functions primarily as a pop-up on specific dates in a regular location. Chef and owner Samantha Fore previously worked as web designer for restaurants but hosted Sri Lankan brunches based on her mother’s recipes. Word of the meals spread around Lexington and the guest list soon outgrew her dining room.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina Chef Vimala Rajendran is using her restaurant to break down barriers, cultural and otherwise. The restaurant’s menu features food she grew up eating as a child in India. She opened Vimala’s in 2010 and uses local, organic produce, and fair-trade ingredients. She also offers her employees fair wages and flexible time. She also integrates charity into her business—those who can’t afford to pay can still get a delicious meal.