Get Indian Cuisine To Go at This Punjabi-Owned Gas Station in Virginia


On a recent lunchtime take a look at to a nondescript ExxonMobil fuel station in Vienna, Virginia, a handful of curious onlookers had been drawn to a line attached to a small kiosk within. Along with soda and the normal lineup of packaged treats, grab-and-go mango lassis had been lined up in a refrigerated scenario. When people forked in excess of their money, they left with bins of hen biryani, assemble-oneself pani puri, and burritos stuffed with fried vegetable samosas.

Raja and Bindu Puri opened Chit Chaat cafe inside of the gasoline station at 200 Maple Avenue E a number of months back. The husband and spouse do all the prep and cooking. Their young children Neil, Maggie, and Nikki take on respective roles in operations, finance, and social media. Despite the fact that it’s not the family’s initial restaurant, it’s their initially one surrounded by gasoline pumps.

The Puris moved to the U.S. from the Punjab area of India in the late 1990s. Bindu appreciated to cook for the Indian neighborhood, making ready elaborate foods for parties and serving as an unofficial caterer for close friends and family. About a few several years in the past, the few made the decision to get the leap and open a restaurant in Chantilly, Virginia. The initially Chit Chaat cafe opened in the summer season of 2019 after prolonged delays.

Intrigued by the enterprise opportunity to own a gasoline station, the family members bought the ExxonMobil in Vienna in 2021. They experienced no programs to open a restaurant within, but they shortly acknowledged the opportunity of serving consumers on the go. For the initial handful of months of company, the family packaged organized meals in the Chantilly kitchen and bought them at the gas station. As soon as they realized there was a demand from customers, they decided to build a different kitchen.

“We needed to make sure that we have been providing to our shoppers the guarantee of clean, homemade food stuff,” says Neil Puri, the son who manages funds for the small business. Neil claims open up flames are not allowed inside a fuel station, so the relatives tends to make thanks with electric stovetops. “There’s definitely significantly less home for cooking,” he claims, “but primarily we are seeing much more site visitors than we thought of in the beginning so we are mastering to be additional successful in the minimal area.”

A hand holds a stuffed semolina shell over a to-go cup full of tamarind-brown dipping liquid.

Chit Chaat’s pani puri kits occur with crispy semolina shells, potato masala filling, and to-go cups of sweet, tangy, and spicy dipping liquid.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

An overhead look at Chit Chaat’s chicken biryani, a rice dish covered in cilantro and cashews and served in a foil to-go container.

Although Chit Chaat entrepreneurs Raja and Bindu Puri have under no circumstances eaten meat, they made a decision to provide dishes like hen biryani to attractiveness to a larger demographic.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

A handful of months in, the term has distribute. Folks have started out coming in for the butter chicken and Indo-Chinese chili rooster platters, as very well as the clean samosas, vegetable dishes, and the rooster biryani. Platters are served with rice and a decision of vegetable, typically dal makhni (creamy black lentils), palak paneer (paneer cheese with spinach), or alu (potato) curry.

Normal Punjabi dishes make up most of the menu, and the versions at Chit Chaat are reminiscent of home-model cooking, redolent with fresh new spices and a depth of taste that only comes from slow cooking. That’s amazing thinking of Bindu and Raja Puri are vegetarian and have never ever eaten meat. Their Chantilly restaurant is absolutely vegetarian, but they resolved the Vienna place would enchantment to a larger demographic by presenting meat dishes. The couple’s children all provide as flavor testers and critics who help vet recipes via various iterations in advance of they’re accessible to the general public.

One particular group preferred has been a samosa burrito. The freshly fried, potato-stuffed morsel receives tucked into a tortilla and dressed up with spicy chickpeas and scorching and sweet chutneys, then grilled and wrapped. Maggie Sukhwani, one particular of the Puri daughters, came up with the notion as a spin on an Indian snack favorite, packaged in an uncomplicated takeaway format.

Pani puri kits have also been a significant strike. A street foodstuff staple in India, the crispy semolina shells are served with the important accoutrements. Shoppers can crack the prime of the puris, stuff it with the potato masala, dunk it into the cup of sweet, tangy, and spicy pani (liquid). The generous encouraging would make the interactive snack big sufficient to perform as a family members-measurement appetizer.

The Puri family poses for a photo inside Chit Chaat cafe.

Chef Bindu Puri and her partner, Raja Puri (next and third from still left), with son Neil Puri (significantly remaining), worker Vishal Bhandari, son-in-regulation Robert Sukhwani, and daughter Maggie Sukhwani.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

The Puris just started featuring a tandoori rooster meatball sub, and they want to continue to keep expanding the menu. Tikka masala fries and vada pav, a good friend potato patty sandwich, could sign up for the menu shortly. Bindi Puri will take requests, much too, as long as she receives a few times of discover. “We had a customer check with for baingan bhartha that my mother was satisfied to make!” he claims of the charred eggplant dish.

In addition to warm food, Chit Chaat continues to fill a refrigerated show situation with prepackaged meals, restocking with new batches a number of occasions a day till they provide out. The household is pursuing permits so it can insert indoor seating, and they’d eventually like to develop a patio.

A refrigerated case contains plastic cups of mango lassi alongside boxes of beer and bottles of water.

Mango lassis are packaged for carryout following to craft beer and bottled drinking water.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

Even though jogging a restaurant without gas appliances or a tandoor presents a problem, the Puris say their overhead fees are decrease in the gasoline station than at their restaurant in Chantilly. They get to attractiveness to clients who are hunting for usefulness, and have an chance to introduce Punjabi Indian food stuff to persons who may have never tasted it prior to.

“People who are newer to Indian cuisine are curious about the foods and ready to get a prospect on a samosa or a mango lassi, and then they come again for more,” Neil Puri claims. “They also see factors being made, and that receives their consideration. We are happy to shell out the time with them to clarify the food items and the components. They are pretty appreciative of that.”

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