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Feeding the homeless this Saturday, Dec 21

We’re delighted to partner with our uber-talented and kind-hearted food truck designer Kyle Wai Lin and his friends and family this Saturday, Dec 21 to distribute food from the Kasa Food Truck to the homeless at St Vincent de Paul in the Tenderloin from 6p to 730p.

For at least one evening, the food truck trend that the rest of us have been enjoying around town can be enjoyed by those in more trying circumstances.

It was remarkably challenging to set this event up, despite our intentions.  Kyle was originally trying for Thanksgiving but we could not get the logistics worked out.  Who would have thought that at a time when people are freezing and in need of food, we cannot just get out there and feed them!  Even now, we are still looking for one more non-profit organization to partner with for this Saturday afternoon, so please pass the word.

I have intense emotions towards the homeless situation in SF, and I even carry a bit of paranoia of ending up homeless myself. Growing up with a lack of financial security is probably where it’s stemming from, and I know that the government-assisted housing in London kept my family from spiraling out of control.

I speak to a lot of homeless folk as I live in the Mission and work on Polk Street and have learned a lot about their back stories and the details of their day to day lives. So many details life that we take for granted, like having a bit of privacy or taking a hot bath, are just missing for them.  It’s heart breaking.

Many of the homeless do not look like what one might expect. Many homeless don’t look ‘homeless’ and are struggling to keep the secret.  Kids are trying to go to school, people trying to find jobs.  To exasperate the problem, shelters can be scary, intimidating and dehumanizing, not to mention laden with crime.

It could indeed to happen to anyone given some unfortunate situations and a lack of a safety net or support network, especially here in SF where there is a lack of affordable housing.

Friends and family don’t always understand why I live in the heart of the Mission and love the Tenderloin.  For the most part, I am not afraid or irritated by the presence of homeless folk.  I don’t want to move to a neighbourhood where I can essentially ignore the situation and pretend it does not exist.  It’s not that I do anything to help the situation other than treat people with respect and humanity, but it feels important to me to face it and know that it takes all kinds of people in many situations to make up the world.

Here on Polk Street, homeless is more linked to drugs and my compassion gets tested severely.  Like tonight, as I look out the window writing this post late night at Kasa Polk, a woman walks in who appears to be on some kind of drug, a towel wrapped around her head, nose running with an intimidating presence pronounced by some very dark eye liner.  She came close enough to invade my personal space and asks me for $1.  I politely refused, and she stared at me and threateningly asked again.   My first reaction was anger at this person attempting to bully me for $1.  My second reaction was fear.  What if she just unpredictably hits me or worse spits on me?  She told me I was going to hell, and I wanted to smack her!

My job as a business owner is to keep out potentially mentally unsound, drugged out persons and protect my customers, employees and business.  I was angry that I had to deal with it at all and put myself in danger.  Even though I rationally know that it is pointless being angry given the complexity of the situation, it still happens.

What I love about this city though is that the majority of people are smart and compassionate enough to understand this.

Given my feelings toward this issue, I jumped at the chance to partner with Kyle when he contacted me. So I look forward to it and A HUGE thanks to Kyle and his friends for leading this.

We’ll be at St Vincent de Paul at 525 5th Street (@Bryant) from 6pm to 730pm.  Kindly spread the word to anyone who would benefit from a complimentary hot meal this Saturday night.

Indian Ghost Peppers in your Kati Roll?!

Over the holidays, I listened in on friends’ reflections of the past year and goals for the year ahead.  I started to feel guilty, as both concepts usually evade me.

I don’t possess enough patience to reflect on the past. And as for the future, I’m often too consumed with juggling the present to set goals or worse, when I do, I end up disappointed or burned out trying to meet them.

Nonetheless, I tried a little introspection and goal setting this year based on the Scoville Chilli Pepper Scale.  The scale measures the heat factor of each chilli pepper, so I decided to compare myself with the Chilli Pepper scale.

My goal for this year is to trust that I’m a naturally moderate person and not feel bad about the occasionally wild swings of moodiness.   My tastes, cravings and temperament range anywhere from the Sweet Bell pepper (a big fat 0 on the scale) to the Thai Birds Eye Chilli, which we use for our Kasa Hot Sauce (50,000- 100,000 on the scale!).   The Birds Eye Chilli, while potent, is quite moderate in the grand scheme of the Scoville Scale.  Like me! (That was the introspection part.)

I’m also going to think more in terms of ranges like the heat of chillies, which are often based on external factors out of our control.  Ranges feel better to me than absolute values.   I feel like I’m going where I’m going and not in any particular linear way that I can try to force.  Like the chillies, I am innately who I am and am going to flow with it.  What’s more, I like where I am.

Anything higher on the Scoville Scale than Kasa’s Birds Eye chilli is just too hot and painful for me to handle. Despite being in absolute awe of the power of the Indian Ghost Pepper a.k.a. Bhut Jolokia (800,000 to 1,001, 304) and the Trinidad Scorpion (almost as hot as the common pepper spray), there is just too much stress involved to get there.

As for YOUR goals, humble readers…

For those afraid of the Kasa Hot Sauce who want to push outside your comfort zone, I recommend trying little dots of the Kasa Hot Sauce in your Kati Rolls to reap the benefits. And don’t forget the Raita to cool it down!

For those searching for more, I could work on a limited edition hot sauce with the Indian Ghost Pepper.  The problem is just that I’m too scared to actually taste it!  Leave a Facebook comment or drop us a line at info@kasaindian.com if you want this!

To get you in the mood, enjoy this informational and funny video on eating the Scorpion Pepper.

Anamika

Diwali memories

Growing up in London, and in particular, Southall, Diwali was always a big festival. In the midst of a cold and frosty November (sometimes October as the date of Diwali is governed by the moon), the bright colours and crackling explosions of fireworks could be heard for days before the actual event. This would usually be accompanied by my dad grumbling that they should ban fireworks after 10pm so that ordinary people could get a good night’s sleep! He was our Diwali scrooge who loosened up only after a glass of whiskey with neighbours!

I remember these days fondly as it was the one time in the year that my brother, Anamika and I could play with fire and create huge explosions with our parent’s permission; a ritual that played out in the same way every year throughout our childhood.

It would begin with the three of us piling into my dad’s car and driving to Southall Broadway to shop for fireworks. We would cajole and hassle my dad until he gave in and bought us the loudest and biggest rockets, sparklers and snappers. Next stop would be the famous Indian sweet shop – Ambala – where we would choose sticky jaleebis, syrupy galab jamuns and different coloured barfi for dessert. On the way home we would stop by the Gudwara. With a huge marquee set up outside to accommodate the rush of people and the flames of all the diyas glittering in the darkness, it was an atmosphere of energy and action.

Then the discussion about the menu would begin. Food is central in most Indian households but for my mum, aunt and Anamika, it took on new heights with endless debating about what to cook and a lengthy post-meal evaluation. I would often eat and run away from the post-meal dissection but Anamika would always stay to listen. It’s no surprise to us that she became a chef and is running her own restaurant! Whatever the final meal, it always included our family favourite of Butter Chicken or Chicken Tikka Masala with daal. We’re proud that Anamika is sharing some of our family recipes with San Francisco’s most discerning palates.

With the eating out of the way, the real fun of Diwali began. We would all wrap up warmly and bravely venture out into the garden and into the bitter cold. We would take it in turns to light the fireworks and run away as fast as we can to watch it soar high into the sky and explode into multi-coloured patterns. For me, throwing snappers at the feet of unsuspecting adults was the highlight! As Diwali fast approaches (13th November) I’m looking forward to creating new memories with my San Francisco family and of course – eating! Happy Diwali to all our Kasa Customers!

Chai, Indian style

I have always been fascinated by the English and Indian obsession with tea. Despite their complicated shared history, what the two countries do agree on is that enjoying a cup of steaming hot tea is a social and cultural right!

I arrived in San Francisco from London last week and have spent much of my time following my cousin, Anamika, around on her errands and sipping chai at Kasa whilst she works. This sweet and spicy concoction can be found all over India. At street corners served by chai wallahs, people who carve a career out of making and serving the perfect cup of chai, at restaurants and cafes and most importantly, in every Indian household across the world.

Interestingly, as I wander in and out of cafes sampling San Francisco’s legendary food offerings, I’ve come across many versions of the humble chai. Some are a unique take on the original and others taste completely different to the drink I’ve watched my mum make for her many guests over the years. But it did make me think about chai and how such a simple beverage came to be so popular in India and beyond.

There are many different stories of the origin of tea, however, what is interesting is that Indian Chai is not just a brew of water, milk and spices but also a fascinating product of British Colonization. In the 1830’s, China was the main supplier to England’s insatiable desire for tea. Desperate to break their monopoly the British began to cultivate the tea plants that grew wild in the Assam region of India. This was a successful strategy that broke China’s hold on UK drinkers, but consumption of tea within India, where tea was traditionally seen as a herbal medicine, remained low. A clever promotional campaign, which encouraged Indian workers to take tea breaks and supported independent chai wallahs, seemed to do the trick.  Once chai drinking was established, the Indians adapted it to their own palate – adding key spices used in Ayurvedic medicine, more milk and sugar – much to the dismay of the British who saw less tea used as less sales.  And so masala chai was born.

As time moves on and the migration and mixing of people bring forth new ideas, it is interesting to see how established brands such as Starbucks are introducing this simple beverage to the American market. Adapting it to local palates and adding coffee to the blend to make such versions as chai tea latte. As I sit in Kasa and watch people drinking Anamika’s own recipe of chai – ginger, cardamom, loose-leaf tea, cinnamon, sugar and milk – I feel proud that although we may be far from India, we are introducing customers to real chai and doing some justice to this simple drink that is so central to Indian life throughout the world.

For those who want to see a chai wallah in action, check out this video:

Celebrating the Indian festival of Rakhi

My kids Karam and Jiya, tying Rakhri

Coming up on August 2 is one of my favourite Indian Festivals: Rakhi, or as we call it in Punjabi - Rakhri.

Rakhi celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters.   I think it’s so very beautiful to have an entire festival dedicated to the love and special bond between brothers and sisters.

The central ceremony involves the tying of a rakhi (sacred thread) by a sister on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love, her willingness to look after him and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her.  Traditionally, the brother also gives his sister a gift or cash.  Of course, there is always Indian food and sweets to mark the celebration!

Though I was an only child, I didn’t miss out on Rakhri.  I tied it on my first cousin Amardeep, who I grew up with.  This celebration solidified our bond even further.   I have such fond memories of him as a kid wriggling about and complaining that the thread was too tight or embarrassingly ornate.  Of course, the more he complained, the more gaudy the Rakhi I would buy him and the tighter I would tie it!  :)

It’s so touching to watch the cycle come around, and watch my own son and daughter every Rakhri do practically the same thing…and I even hear the same complaints from my son about the unfairness of the festival.  He gets a thread, and his sister gets paid??  In the midst of the usual ongoing loving sibling wars, I remind them of their eternal love and bond to each other, and I know they are listening :)

I’ve shared a couple of pictures of my family from recent Rakhris. For my Jiya, the Gulab Jamuns are the highlight of the event!

My son Karam with his cousin Henna