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Sort-of Secret: Chai Pani Streetary, an Oakville café serving up Indian street food

Their menu aims to include the most popular snacks from across the country

By Baisakhi Roy| Photography by Marc Santos
A spread of food at Chai Pani Streetary, an Indian restaurant in Oakville that specializes in street snacks

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The sort-of secret: Chai Pani Streetary, an Oakville café that serves up Indian street food with a side of nostalgia You may have heard of it if: You’re always on the hunt for good Indian food But you probably haven’t tried it because: It’s all the way out in Oakville, close-ish to the Burlington border   What happens when three friends with mundane business-management jobs invariably end up talking food around the proverbial water cooler? They open a café together, of course.

Maulik Limbachiya, Gaurav Raizada and Vikash Bairoliya—who met while working at a financial services company in downtown Toronto—envisioned a place that would be like an “Indian Starbucks,” where people would meet up for a chai, a chat and perhaps even some spicy chaat, a savoury potato-based snack with all kinds of fried toppings and sauces. The outcome was Chai Pani Streetary, which they opened in an Oakville plaza in June 2022.

The exterior of Chai Pani Streetary, an Indian street food restaurant in Oakville, Ontario
The dining room at Chai Pani Streetary, an Indian street food restaurant in Oakville

The Hindi “chai pani” literally translates to “tea water” but is also a term used for snacks in several parts of India. “We found that there was practically nothing when it came to Indian street food in the Halton region,” says Bairoliya. “With the influx of so many immigrants, especially from South Asia, into this region in the past few years, it made sense to open an establishment focused on Indian street food.” What they didn’t expect was that they would attract so many patrons from the GTA’s Indian-cuisine strongholds, including Brampton and Mississauga.

Railway cutlets and chai at Chai Pani Streetary, an Indian restaurant in Oakville

Their menu aims to include the most popular street food from across the country: vada pav (a potato dumpling fritter encased in a fluffy bun) from Mumbai, in the west; jhal muri (spicy crispy puffed rice) from Kolkata, in the east; and chaat from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, to name a few. All three owners were confident that the concept would work, but they also knew how discerning their customers would be—especially those from India who had been raised on the “real stuff” and tended to scoff at poor attempts to replicate the original flavours and textures of their favourite foods.

A Mumbai vada pav at Chai Pani Streetary in Oakville, Ontario

The feedback so far, however, has been overwhelmingly positive. “This is the best thing to have happened to Oakville’s Indian community,” says Shweta Bhatia, a regular customer who lives in the area and would previously make the trek to Brampton or Mississauga for her favourite Indian street food. Bhatia’s husband is partial to the pav bhaji (a soft bun paired with vegetable curry) as it reminds him of his favourite place, Mount View in Chandigarh, a city near Delhi.

The team is aware that the southern part of India remains under-represented in the menu, and they plan to include more southern delicacies soon. “People are very passionate about the food from their place of origin. They always believe that their version is the best, because there is nostalgia attached to it. So we try to make our dishes as close to the originals as possible,” says Bairoliya. “If three out of five tasters—us three owners and our two chefs—don’t approve of a certain snack, we don’t roll it out.” Setting the bar high seems to be paying off: spurred by their success, the team recently opened a second location, in Brampton.

Two types of jeera biscuits and cups of chai at Chai Pani, an Indian restaurant
Two pistachio milk shakes at Chai Pani Streetary, an Indian restaurant in Oakville, Ontario

Certain items on Chai Pani’s menu are aimed at immigrants nostalgic for train travel in India. For many, overnight interstate train trips were characterized by snacking on piping hot “railway cutlets,” a potato-and-beetroot snack served with coriander or mint chutney. The menu also features sweet-savoury cookies called jeera biscuits, flavoured with cumin or dehydrated cherries, which travellers would ceremoniously dip into tea while waiting for the train. To this day, it’s common to see office workers in Mumbai seeking shelter from a sudden downpour under a tarp-covered roadside tea stall, sipping glasses of cutting chai. On an especially hot Canadian summer afternoon, this memory—combined with some of Chai Pani’s potent milky tea and a bun maska—hits the spot.

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Chai Pani, 2501 Third Line, unit D10, Oakville, 905-827-2662, chaipanistreetary.com, @chaipanistreetary

A wall featuring tea kettles at Chai Pani Streetery, an Indian street food restaurant in Oakville
A mural on one wall at Chai Pani Streetary, an Indian street food restaurant

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