Samosa Deb’s is the only authentic Indian food truck open on Main Campus. Debbie Dasani, the truck’s owner, said she believes the university’s truck culture needs more diversity.
“I think I’m better at representing my culture than a lot of other trucks,” Dasani said. “When you grow up with the cooking, you just know what to do. It basically came to me by osmosis.”
Owner of Dasani LLC, a convenience store in South Philadelphia that she runs with her husband, Dasani has always offered home-cooked Indian cuisine outside of her store. Her specialties are sweet breads and samosas, which are triangular-shaped pockets of wheat dough filled with potatoes and vegetables that are fried and served over chaat, a spicy snack mix.
When customers requested other things for her to make, Dasani said she decided to open a food truck to satisfy everyone. She came to Main Campus in an effort to add to the diversity of Temple’s food selection, she said.
“There’s too many of the same types of steaks and things like that,” Dasani said. “I think we need a lot more diversity, and I’m here to bring it to everyone.”
The transition from selling outside of her small shop to operating out of a truck wasn’t difficult, she said. She said she strategically kept her business small enough to handle everything effectively.
“I wanted to be able to manage things, so I didn’t want to open a restaurant along with the store because it would’ve been too huge of an endeavor,” Dasani said. “I saw trucks at other events and it matched what I thought I was capable of. I wanted to serve different areas, not be stuck behind a stove with no customer interaction.”
Although she has run into problems finding a location for her truck due to police ticketing and some of the other truck owners on campus, Dasani said she hasn’t let the challenges drive her off campus. She had her truck parked on 13th Street initially, but recently decided to move to Montgomery Avenue after those complications.
“I’m still here because my customers want me here,” Dasani said. “I had a hard time with some of the vendors telling me to go somewhere else, and I’ve had police ticket me, but I was encouraged to come to Temple so I’ll continue to.”[blockquote who=”Debbie Dasani” what=”truck owner”]There’s too many of the same types of steaks and things like that.[/blockquote]
Customer satisfaction is of the utmost importance to her business, Dasani said. The truck’s menu is largely driven by customer requests and favorites. She said she sets herself apart from other trucks because she allows customers to try a dish before they purchase it.
“I talk to customers and ask them what they like and their needs, and without a doubt they’re all repeat customers,” Dasani said. “I must offer something that they really like.”
Dasani uses cooking methods that she learned during her time growing up in Guyana, and said she’s become accustomed to using the techniques passed down through her Indian heritage. Dasani said she’s happy a lot of her culture has stayed with her throughout the years.
“People have told me that my style of cooking is more mild and palatable than other Indian styles,” Dasani said. “My spices vary though. I use a lot of turmeric, coriander and cumin. There’s certain methods of using Indian spices that I took for granted and didn’t realize until I trained part-time employees, and they’d ask me what to put in and when.”
Dasani is a member of The Food Trust, a nonprofit organization that aims to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food and the information to make healthy eating decisions. With its headquarters in Philadelphia, The Food Trust is responsible for organizing the Night Markets that take place in neighborhoods across the city. The first time Dasani offered her hot dishes as opposed to her usual breads was at the Italian Market festival in 2008. She continued to observe other trucks at the Night Markets before she opened her own.
Dasani said one thing she realized after attending social gatherings like those was there is a large population of vegetarians in the city. She tries to accommodate her menu to fit the needs of everyone with dishes like chicken tikka chaat, which contains chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, along with vegetarian dishes like falafel, which is mashed chickpeas mixed with spices and fried.
Dasani said she sees a lot of customers branching out and said she has felt positive about her interaction with the Temple community.
“The students are the best to cook for,” she said. “I love [students]. [They] have healthy appetites and [are] always willing to try anything new.”
Students said they are intrigued by the new truck. For Chioma Uba, a junior media studies and production major, seeing the truck came as a surprise.
“It’s my first time seeing an Indian food truck, but I’ve had Indian food before,” Uba said. “I figured I’d try it out.”
Colby Wallace, a senior psychology major, stopped at the truck out of curiosity.
“I’d seen it before and it looked interesting to me,” Wallace said. “Nothing on the menu was familiar, so I decided to just try something.”
Dasani said she is glad students are willing to step outside of their comfort zone, if necessary, to sample her fare.
Ariane Pepsin can be reached at email@example.com.