Tiffin Asha began as a gourmet food cart in Portland, Oregon, serving up delicious Indian comfort food - dosas - in Portland’s fickle weather.
Portland tends to be wet and cold at this time of the year, so one wonders what goes down well with folks trying to beat the chill. Says Elizabeth Golay, co-founder, “We are located in Portland, Oregon, where fried chicken is on every menu! Portlanders love their fried chicken and so our dosa the “Hot Chick,” which has pakora fried chicken, cardamom honey, pickled kale and yogurt cheese, has always been the most popular with non-Indians. Non-Indian vegetarians love the gun powder, cheese and masala dosas. Idli fry is also popular. We just want to let people know they have more options - there is more yummy food out there that they'd really enjoy, if they just knew about it. So try it out!”
Sampling the fare, food critic Karen Brooks wrote: “Only Portland can offer you pakora-fried chicken wrapped in a dosa and served from a colourful food cart window. Think exotic chicken McNuggets, gloriously dunked and fried in spicy chickpea-rice flour, then wrapped in a dosa glazed with neyyi (clarified butter) and local yoghurt. The crispy-tangy dosa cone pops with spice, crunch and surprise. This is fried chicken and greens reborn, ecstatically. I could eat it every day.”
(Featured pic and above by by Dina Avila)
Their website www.tiffinasha.com says Chef Elizabeth Golay fell in love with South Indian law student Sheila Bommakanti and that is how her love for South Indian food began. Elizabeth told CSP, “My wife Sheila, whose family is from Andhra Pradesh, opened my eyes to an unfamiliar cuisine that I fell in love with immediately and embraced completely.”
Food has been a passion for Elizabeth since her childhood. She’s a Western trained Chef who graduated from the Le Cordon Bleu California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. “I’ve been working in this industry for over 20 years and well before that, grew up with a mother who loved to cook. I’ve been immersed in this world of food my entire life. I did not stumble upon it or fall back on it because of default, it has always been my passion and has fed my creativity. I have brought all of this to the food I create at the restaurant. I would not call what I do fusion, but rather something entirely new.”
The two met in Seattle, where Golay returned after graduating from California Culinary Academy. Sheila (whose family is from Andhra Pradesh) asked Golay if she had ever tasted South Indian food and thus began the dosa journey. They moved to Boston in 2006 where Sheila studied at Suffolk Law School, and Elizabeth started working under James Beard awarded Chef Ana Sortun at Oleana in Cambridge.
During her time at Oleana she found Chef Sortun’s passion for Eastern Mediterranean food inspiring which sparked her interest to start her own business that would later become Tiffin Asha, dedicated to the food and flavors of South India. For Elizabeth, “Food, no matter where you are, is primary. It is necessity. It is nourishment. For us it allows us to share with others something we love very much.”
In 2009 Elizabeth and Sheila were married, and Bommakanti graduated from law school. Elizabeth Golay opened Tiffin Asha in Portland, Oregon as a food cart in May 2013. Bommakanti left her career as a civil rights attorney to work alongside Golay full time in June 2014, joining forces to make Elizabeth’s dream a reality. Bommakanti explains, “There are many ways to be an activist. For us, part of that is creating a safe space in our community, where all are welcome, where people can enjoy this style of comfort food in a comfortable place.”
Tiffin Asha finally went brick and mortar in January 2017 and challenges general ideas of how Indian food is perceived abroad. “For those who don't know South Indian food, we challenge the idea itself of what Indian food is. Our current menu is South Indian tiffin, so when you come in and dine with us at Tiffin Asha, you won’t see chicken tikka masala, naan, or the usual curries that are in most restaurants. Those are the Indian foods that are most familiar to people, and what they have come to expect at all Indian restaurants. We are still at the beginning stages of educating people about Indian food in this country. We have customers that have come in, looked at the menu and even asked if we serve Indian food,” says Elizabeth.
Photo by Aubrie LeGault
Elizabeth says she started with a menu of smaller plates, “based off an idea that you can get different menu items to share. I wanted people to be able to try various dishes they may have not been familiar with before.” Almost seven years old, the flavours of the food at Tiffin Asha have spread by word of mouth.
From a gourmet cart to a cosy dining experience, has been ‘challenging and rewarding,’ says Elizabeth. “We really love how people can sit inside and enjoy our food, no matter what the weather is like outside. No one has to eat our dosas in the rain ever again!”