Of all the great things Atlanta has to offer, street food is not one of them. We’re a car-centric, relatively young city that’s not known for its foot traffic or open-air markets. But, Atlanta does have a strong community of international restaurants, and sometimes they’ll offer a taste of what we’re missing compared with cities where street eating is more common than trips to the gas station.
Chai Pani, the celebrated Indian restaurant in downtown Decatur, does street food right. On busy Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, they set up a pani puri station in their entrance, right next to the host stand. As you wait on your table, or for a to-go order, you can buy trays of five pani puri for just $4. The street food stand also makes an appearance for one of the restaurant’s busiest nights of the year: Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, taking place Wednesday, Nov. 7.
The words pani puri basically mean “water cracker.” A puffed, hollow cracker called a puri gets a hole punched in it, then is filled with a mixture of spiced waters called imli pani.
Like most street food, pani puri have endless derivatives. At Chai Pani, the pani puri get extra heft from a mixture of mashed potatoes and chickpeas, plus diners can add minced onions and peppers, as they choose. As they are quickly and expertly served by Sridevi Bhonagiri, a Chai Pani cook who usually runs the pani puri station, guests can mingle, talk and eat. It’s a transporting experience, in no small part because of the delicious, authentic and inexpensive street food.
Chai Pani. 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-378-4030, chaipanidecatur.com.