Tucked into a little crack on NE Alberta and 13th, Tiffin Asha greets you with floor-to-ceiling blackboards that triple as food cart menu, graphic design, and culinary tease. Written in one corner:
1. An explosive mixture.
2. Podi, a powder made of various spices, chiles, and lentils, and eaten like chutney. Found in the southern region of India.
Cleverly packaged with stick-on decals of TNT, power kegs, toy guns, the "gun powders" come gratis with every meal, meant to be stirred into a pool of unrefined sesame oil for an instant dip or sauce. These mysterious powders are just the beginning for Elizabeth Golay's intriguing mashup of Southern Indian snacks, seasonal know-how, and Portland breakfast culture.
This is the cart we've been waiting for, now less than a month old. A former pastry chef at Seattle's popular Poppy and California Culinary Academy grad, Golay is a self-styled nut for the flavors of Andhra Pradesh, one of four Southern Indian culinary regions.
She's a recent Portland transplant and is just warming up with a menu built around dosas, the fermented India-born flatbread at the crossroads of a crepe and a pancake. Golay makes two versions from a trio of ground lentils and two kinds of rice (basmati and aromatic sona masuri), both fermented overnight then browned on the cart’s flat-top griddle. One is thin and crispy; the other a thicker iteration sturdy enough to function as a sandwich “wrap.”
Tiffin Asha is poised to find a quick place among Portland's best carts. Most options run $5-$7, a deal considering the handmade intensity and range of flavor boosters. Here's four reasons to get over there now:
1. Pakora fried chicken wrapped in dosa: Think exotic chicken McNuggets, gloriously dunked and fried in spicy chickpea-rice flour, then wrapped in a pancake-like dosa glazed with neyyi (clarified butter) and a local favorite, Nancy's Honey Yogurt. The crispy-tangy dosa cone pops with spice, crunch, and surprise—courtesy of Golay's beautiful little pickled radishes, two pickled kales, and cardamom-infused honey. This is fried chicken and greens reborn, ecstatically. I could eat it every day.
2. The chutney bar: Beneath colorful patches of hanging fabric lies a help-yourself chutney bar boasting five homemade condiments for flavor tinkering. Among Golay's collection: fresh coconut chutney, pale and soothing; fresh-mashed mango pickle throwing a few hot serrano chile tears; and best of all, "Chandra's peanut," a nutty spread packing delayed heat and coriander fumes.
3. Say hello to podi gun powders: Tiffin means "snacking" in Andhra Pradesh, where little savories are eaten on the go with spice-blend condiments. Golay serves three versions: white (an earthy-riffic blend of four ground, toasted dahls), red (a hot chili-peanut that does the trick), and black (tasting more of black pepper than the promise of black sesame). From a small menu, choose one per dish to pair with idli (fermented dal and rice cakes) or crispy "vada holes" sprinkled with Golay's coconut-chili fleur de sel. The house sambar soup, beautifully spiked with tamarind, is another must and is perfect for dunking vadas or idli.
4. Fried egg sandwiches, with dosas: This may be the new face of the fried egg—dosa wrapped, with a choice of 1) gunpowder 2) applewood smoked bacon and alder salt-roasted tomatoes or 3) mushrooms and Rogue Creamery Smoky Blue. Served daily 11 am to 2 pm.
1313 NE Alberta Street
Tuesday-Thursday: 11 am-6 pm
Friday-Saturday 11 am-8 pm