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Photo: Katlin Kazmi/Provided

Dear fellow Appalachians,

“We have leftover chicken curry in the fridge.”

“Do you think that would go with those mashed potatoes we made?”

...and thus, Curry Me Down South was born. It was actually this dish that created another idea. An idea that had been brewing subconsciously but would soon blossom into reality. The first story I want to share with readers is part of my own, the story of The Pakalachian Food Truck.

Katlin Kazmi and Mohsin Kazmi with The Pakalachian Food Truck. Photo: Katlin Kazmi/Provided

My husband, Mohsin, and I often mixed leftovers after we got married — him making the Pakistani comfort food he grew up with and I, the downhome Appalachian meals I remembered from childhood. We began to see something emerge from these combinations, something unique and interesting. It became a culinary game for us. We started thinking about classic dishes from both cultures and then experimenting with 50/50 blends. For some dishes, we altered the cooking processes, and for others, the ingredients or spices. Eventually, we would create a dish that perfectly combined the best of both regions, dishes that — to be honest — we weren’t entirely sure people would like! 

The Pakalachian Food Truck began in this way, organic unions brought forth by the marriage of two seemingly different cultures. Mohsin is ethnically Pakistani; his parents immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. I am from Russell County, Virginia. We have been in the food truck business since April 2018, building an empty 1995 step van from the ground up with the help of family and friends. This is just how you do things in Appalachia, build them up from scratch. We rummaged through old parts and trinkets to make our appliances work, pulled skills and knowledge from my grandfather and our dads, and even utilized an old SO cable from a local mine that shut down to suffice as our power source. After months of wiring the electrical circuits and lining the walls with stainless steel, we were ready to serve!

Photo: Katlin Kazmi/Provided

How quickly we learned that two cultures thousands of miles apart weren’t as far away in the realm of food as we had originally thought. A Venn diagram we created solidified this notion on paper and the smiles on peoples faces as they devoured these inventions would quickly put to rest any doubt we originally had about whether these dishes would be enjoyed in the Appalachian Mountains. 

Since it’s likely you’ve never visited our truck in Abingdon, I want to share a few of our dishes and dive into what makes them Pakalachian. 

Curry Me Down South. Photo: Katlin Kazmi/Provided

Curry Me Down South

Curry is a genre, rather than a singular item with definitive characteristics. It’s Bluegrass rather than “Uncle Pen.” One primary characteristic: sauce. Cultures all over the world make their own version, but our interpretation is a rich, tomato-based chicken curry. In Pakistan, curry is usually served over rice. But this is The Pakalachian, so we pile a good helping of the decadent curry on top of hand-smashed potatoes. I used to sit on the counter as my grandmother made mashed potatoes for holiday events, stealing a lick from the bowl when she wasn’t looking. It is her recipe we use on the truck. The curry and mash compliment each other so effortlessly that you’ll wonder why they weren’t put together to begin with. Wait, wait, there’s more: Our fresh, slightly spicy, cilantro-based chutney served on top pushes this dish to another level.

Tikka My Senses. Photo: Katlin Kazmi/Provided

Tikka My Senses

This dish is growing wildly in popularity. Chicken Tikka is typically marinated in a variety of spices and barbequed. What is Appalachia without a little frying, though? We traditionally marinate boneless chicken breasts in Pakistani spices but fry it instead. Served as a sandwich with plenty of dill pickles, this chicken sandwich could rival any of the famous ones! Aloo bhaji seasoned fries accompany the sandwich on your plate. Aloo simply means potato in Urdu, the language of Pakistan. Aloo bhaji is a potato dish that involves sauteing potatoes in spices. We take many of those same spices and toss them on hot crinkle cuts instead. 

Tikka My Senses. Photo: Katlin Kazmi/Provided

Fried Green Tomater Pakoras

If there is one thing Southwest Virginia gets right, it’s fried green tomatoes. I would wager a bet that almost every family has a classic recipe for them. Our version really throws things for a loop! We place a large slice of green tomato in pakora batter, resulting in an addictive savoy fritter unlike any other. Pakoras are typically made by combining spices with bits of onion and potato in a batter made of besan, chickpea flour and water. We keep all of that the same (for the most part) and add a large slice of green right in the middle. Fun fact: This dish is 100% vegan and gluten free.

These are just a few of our favorite combinations that have resulted from the diligent work of reaching into the culinary aspects of our cultures, pulling from practices passed down through generations and including ingredients that are special and invoke memories of childhood. My husband and I have notebooks of ideas for dishes, but our 12 foot truck only holds so much goodness.

Without the support of our community, The Pakalachian simply would not exist. We have been welcomed with open arms and are so appreciative of all those who have visited the truck, told friends about us or written positive reviews. This is how a small business thrives! Only with the support from those around us can we sustain and continue providing services for the area in which we live.

It is the people that keep us doing what we do where we do it; it is also why we strive to give back to our local community. We could have taken this truck to a big city and exposed it to more people, but we wanted Southwest Virginia to have the opportunity to enjoy this delicious food. 

Next week, we dive deeper into sustainable aspects of the food truck and shift the focus to other locals working diligently to make Appalachia a great place to live.

Katlin 

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