Chai, Indian Style pt II

Last month, India – one of the world’s largest democracies – celebrated 68 years of independence from British rule.  We hope some of you were able to come in and celebrate with us and enjoy Chai and Pakoras on the house!

Me, with the Indian Flag on my cheek.I’m incredibly patriotic and proud to be Indian and was fortunate enough to have spent seven formative years at a boarding school in the pristine beautiful mountains of Panchgani, India.  I was, however, born and raised in London and simultaneously identify myself as British. And now 15 years after arriving in SF, I’m also part American too (unless Donald Trump wins the election).  Underneath it all, I’m Indian at heart and love spices –  whatever all this means.  The mind boggles with philosophical questions – what does it truly mean to be Indian or American or British.  Do I belong in either country or culture?


Having felt a misfit on and off my whole life I’ve concluded for me it means being able to take the best of each culture and ditch the rest.  To appreciate that despite the violence and tyranny that occurred with the British colonialism there were historic events that set some positive side effects in motion.   My grandparents suffered through a gruesome horrific splitting of Pakistan and India, leaving them homeless, penniless, losing family members and eventually migrating to England to start all over – resulting in me being able to write this piece here and introduce home-style Indian food to SF.


Man making Chai!A more historic piece set in motion – CHAI!!  – Until the British stole black tea from China in a great act of industrial espionage and brought the tea industry to India,  Chai was unheard of.  In order to make substantial profits the British heavily pushed Black tea on to Indians


Indians being who we are, took a strong somewhat unpalatable expensive drink of black tea, made it cheaper by adding milk, tastier by adding spices, sweeter by adding sugar (coincidentally the British also had a mound of sugar to sell) – and theatrics and skill to the pouring of the tea.  Almost a century later we have a drink that has stood the test of time and growing in popularity around the world.  Not to mention some of the best tea in the world is now grown in Darjeeling India and painstakingly each leaf is individually hand picked, mostly by women.  Think of that the next time you sip your chai.


Check out our August Newsletter for our Chai Recipe and other Kasa News!

Click Here for our Kasa Newsletter

Staff Spotlight in the Castro

Jonathan, Our Castro Lead – Happiest Guy Alive!

Many of you know and have been served by our positive Castro lead, Jonathan Abuel. I wanted to share a little of his personal history with you, as now is a very special time in his life!

Jon is originally from the Philippines and moved to America 8 years ago.  He left his home country and came here because ‘America is the country of dreams, the place you come to if you want your ambitions to come true!’

Jon explained to me that the Philippines has so much corruption that it makes it difficult to raise a family there.  Jon has a wife and two beautiful daughters, now aged 21 and 16.  He had to leave them behind in the Philippines in order to financially set himself up; as well as to go through the immigration process to bring them over here.

It has not been an easy time for him and 8 years without your family is heartbreakingly difficult but his positive attitude and love for his family motivates him.  Everything he does is to set up a future for his daughters.

His first job upon arrival here was within a couple of weeks.  Despite having a disability, due to contracting Polio as a child, he was able to find work as a barista at Starbucks . There, he was quickly promoted within 6 months because of his great customer service and work ethic.  He worked there for a few years always sending money home to his family., “I always control myself not to spend money, only on important things”.

(Left: Jon, Jamaica, Judy)

This month, after all these years, his family has finally joined him and as he says, this makes him ‘the happiest man alive’.  And like full circle, his eldest daughter Judy, started her first day of work at Starbucks yesterday!  His youngest, Jamaica, will be starting school here in the fall.

Whilst it is financially difficult right now, as he has to pay more in rent and spend more to meet the family’s needs, it is just the beginning for them.  We wish them so much luck and we are all very happy for Jon!  He deserves all the happiness life has to offer.

Jon’s story is not unusual in that so many of our staff have left their families behind in order to financially make ends meet.  I’m always in awe of how hard working and emotionally strong our staff are in order to make a better life for those they love.

And a message from Jon to his customers:  “I love America and I love my job, whilst no job is easy, I dedicate myself to my family and team.  I love my regulars as I appreciate their loyalty; not only on their Chicken Tikka Masala/Saag Thalis but to us.  I thank them for appreciating our service and their patience when we are busy or mess up something”.

(Left: Jamaica, Dory, Jonathan and Judy Abuel)

*All photos courtesy of Jonathan!

Kasa Nutrition

Nutritional Analysis

I eat at Kasa every single day and love it!  My absolute favourite meal is a simple daal, rice and saag paneer combo! The premise of Kasa is founded on home-style Indian food with whole ingredients and spices.  Food you can eat every single day and still remain healthy and satisfied. I am most definitely living the Kasa premise, eating up to two meals a day at either one of the restaurants for the last seven years!  I just turned 40 last week and whilst I’ve maintained a steady weight (except when we sold Anthony’s cookies, and I gained a few pounds due to having no sense of discipline whatsoever when it came to those delicious sweet treats), I was thrilled when one of our catering clients, offered to do a nutritional analysis for us on some of our most popular Kati Rolls, so I could see just how many calories I was consuming!

Here are the results for our rolls including the raita on the side.

Saag Paneer Kati Roll – 160 calories

Chicken Tikka Kati Roll – 180 calories

Chicken Tikka Masala – 220 calories

Keema Muttar Kati Roll – 190  calories

Karahi Paneer Kati Roll – 170 calories

*Nutrient values are estimates only based off approximate serving sizes. Variations may occur due to product availability and food preparation.

Please note: This analysis was not officially conducted or paid for by Kasa.

When (Eating) in Rome

I was lucky enough to visit Rome a couple of weeks ago. One warm evening as I sat out on a quaint cobbled street sipping on a cocktail, eating the most fantastic soft salami focaccia sandwich I’ve ever tasted (top 10 food highlights of my life!), I wondered why I can’t quite have this feel and experience in SF.

We have incredible restaurants here, with unparalleled food talent and a uniquely SF vibe that I love. We take such pride in our work, and really focus on our product and ideas. Yet this particular feel is just not possible to get in SF. No doubt the lack of hot nights plays a huge part.

The entire restaurant was practically outdoors. Servers were doubling as magicians whipping out tables and settings as soon as customers strolled by. The world cup played on the outdoor rigged cute TV hooked up with numerous extension wires. Small plates of delicious food came out of the tiny restaurant/bar to cheering fans.

No doubt, the weather, the fashionably dressed people, the beautiful architecture and cobbled streets with potted plants and herbs all added to this uniquely Roman Experience, but a lack of rigid rules was a huge driving force that I was truly loving.

Given that my world is entirely consumed by running restaurants, whenever I visit one as a customer, I can’t help but process the experience from a SF restaurateurs perspective.

So much of this experience would have been shut down. I must preface my next few sentences with the fact that I completely understand that rules and regulations are mostly set up for our safety and to avoid chaos. Yet sometimes they kill a certain beauty of experience and pleasure. I’m sure this is highly unpolitical of me to say, but….. the US really may have over regulated the dining experience.

The outdoor seating permits, rules and regulations would have nixed most of the outdoor experience. At most a couple of tables MAY have been allowed. Residents would have gone completely ape s…t at having all of this action going on in their streets. DPW would have possibly combust at the idea of streets being blocked and yet somehow cars and motorcycles were making it through though and I might add, in a rather scary fashion.

I’m not quite sure which department would have had a heart attack with the electrical dangers of the TV setup, maybe the fire department would have a lot to say about potential fire hazards of the dangerous electrical circuitry.

Charming electrical wiring art on the walls of ancient buildings.

No doubt someone would have been sued by tripping on a wire, although it would have been hard to say who, as so many restaurants and bars were sharing this one TV. The building department may not have allowed the restaurant to actually open in the first place, as the restroom was almost non-existent. And as for the health inspectors!! They would be appalled. None of that food was being stored at either high enough or low enough temperatures, and there was certainly no sneeze guard protecting all the food out in plain sight at this particular restaurant, which means communicable diseases from literally coughing and sneezing on food could have been spread.

I laughed in my head, and fully knowing the hazards of food holding at dangerous temperatures, still decided to go ahead and eat and have a good time. It was nice to know that I was allowed to make this choice for myself.

This is just Italy, imagine India:) Check out this link of a rat temple. An absolute extreme yet fascinating example that really makes me smile. What would the West make of this. Eating with the Rats!!

Karni Mata Temple: It's actually considered a blessing to eat food that has been nibbled on by a rat.

Link: Karni Mata Rat Temple

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.