On a cold, snowy evening after night class last winter, Chirag Chandna craved Indian food, but couldn’t find options at Temple University.
The senior management information systems major wasn’t always satisfied ordering from restaurants in the city, and Uber Eats was charging a high surcharge.
So, Chandna took matters into his own hands. He partnered with Adriatic Grill, a food stand that serves gyros, burgers and paninis at The Wall on 12th Street near Polett Walk, to start a food truck called The Taste of India.
The truck, which opened in April, is parked outside the Student Center on Montgomery Avenue near 12th Street.
Chandna said the Adriatic Grill bought the truck but didn’t want to run it, so he convinced his father, Gogy Chandna, to help him.
“My son is here at Temple and so many times he asked me, ‘Papa, please come, and we can start the truck because there is no Indian food,’” Gogy Chandna said. “So, two times I visited…and then we decided, ‘OK, let us start.’”
Gogy Chandna has more than 18 years of food-service experience, having been a part of the kitchen and management staff at several restaurants in Tampa, Florida, where the family lived for 15 years.
Between classes and overnight shifts at the TECH Center, Chirag Chandna is in charge of management duties like keeping inventory and running the truck’s Instagram account.
“The only target for this food truck is to have as authentic food as we can,” Chirag Chandna said. “We barely have any American products used. Everything is Indian food, Indian spices.”
The menu incorporates spices and recipes commonly used in Northern India because Chandna’s family is from New Delhi. Spices include turmeric powder, cumin seed powder, coriander powder and different kinds of cinnamon.
When the truck runs out of spices, it has them imported from New Delhi to Edison, New Jersey, which has one of the highest Asian populations in the state, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Some of the truck’s dishes include chicken curry, butter chicken cooked in a spiced tomato sauce, and kadhai chicken, a type of curry with peppers. The newest addition to the menu this semester is fish curry.
Students can also order an Indian lemon-based soda called Limca and mango lassi, a yogurt-based drink from India.
“I used to drink Limca when I was young, and it is a nostalgic drink for me,” Chirag Chandna said. “I believed since we are trying to bring authentic Indian food on campus, we also have to bring some authentic Indian drinks.”
Anusha Khan, a freshman health professions major, said The Taste of India is the best place to get rice on campus and her favorite dish is the chicken biryani, which is a mixture of rice, chicken, vegetables and spices.
“[The truck] really opens people’s eyes to new cultures,” Khan said. “Especially if you’re Indian or Pakistani, it gives you a connection. And even if you’re not, it’s nice to try new things.”
The truck also offers vegan options like chana masala, a chickpea curry dish, and vegetarian dishes like butter paneer, an Indian cheese dish. Chirag Chandna follows his great-great-grandmother’s chana masala recipe.
“I grew up watching my grandmother cook a lot,” he said. “The way she prepared spices, you could smell it from miles away.”
Pranav Mellacheruvu, a fifth-year, post-baccalaureate student studying to go to medical school, said he enjoys the truck’s combination platters.
“Around Temple, there isn’t a lot of Indian cuisine and…there are times that I just don’t want to cook,” Mellacheruvu said. “So I’m looking for a fast, easy way to get Indian food, and this is an opportunity to do so.”
In the 2017-18 academic year, 2,058 international undergraduate students attended Temple from countries like South Africa, India and Kuwait.
“At a school like Temple, which has a lot of international students, [The Taste of India] definitely adds to the culture of the university,” said Ana Hartman, an adjunct instructor in the English department.
Chirag Chandna’s wants to expand the menu to include recipes from all over India and serve food from each region. He said he hopes The Taste of India food truck helps close gaps in the Asian cuisine on campus.
“If you want Thai food you can find it, if you want Chinese food, you can find it on campus,” Chirag Chandna added. “Indian food was the missing factor.”