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Monday, June 7, 2010

How a Career in S.F. Street Food Plays Back Home in India

Posted By on Mon, Jun 7, 2010 at 5:19 PM

click to enlarge Paawaan Kothari and her chai stand. - LUIS C./YELP
  • Luis C./Yelp
  • Paawaan Kothari and her chai stand.
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Bay Area writer Sandip Roy penned a profile of Chai Cart and Green Coriander founder Paawaan Kothari for The Times of India on Saturday. In San Francisco, the notion of a chai cart born in the facial-hair-and-ultra-slim-legged Mission rings whimsical, charming even. But in Hyderabad, Kothari's birthplace, there's something degrading about the idea, especially considering the chai seller's former career as marketing strategist for IBM. Roy:

Back in India, her family was a little befuddled. They were indulgent with the chai idea as long as it was a weekend hobby. There were jokes about being a chaiwalli but she says, "there is something romantic about a chai cart in San Francisco. It is picture-postcard romantic." The hills reaching out to touch the bay, the blue waters speckled with sailboats... On a summer afternoon, the fog will suddenly roll in. But reality is more sobering. "I was caught in a hailstorm once," remembers Kothari. "My fingers were freezing. I also had a flat tyre. I was so miserable that I wrote a blog about it."

In the end, Roy's profile is a story about landing in a subculture of the like-minded, about finding family, San Francisco style. Roy again:

"As an immigrant, I always felt this was a place I lived in," [Kothari] says. "Now I belong. Now I am part of a street cart movement. We share a Google group. We re-tweet about each other," she says. Her clientele includes non-Indians curious about chai. It includes Indians who want the nostalgia of hot steaming roadside chai. Some even bring their parents to check it out.

Follow us on Twitter: @SFoodie. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com

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