Four years ago, at the age of just 27, British-born Tania Rahman opened her first food stall which paid homage to chaat – food that is readily found available at road-side stalls or carts across the streets of India.
She had previously been happily working for a London-based software company which involved travelling the world and meeting and working with people from all walks of life.
But Tania insists she was always a ‘proper foodie at heart’, so she quit her job and dived head-first towards her dream of opening her own restaurant. She travelled to India in search for her favourite Indian street dishes, trawling high and low for the best ingredients, and honing her recipes which are high in flavour and light on the stomach.
From humble street food stall beginnings, her debut restaurant Chit Chaat Chai in South London, is now an established trendsetting restaurant which has become a popular hang-out for celebrities hooked on her range of signature dishes and Indian spiced cocktails and mocktails. As well as Tania herself winning several entrepreneur gongs, Chit Chaat Chai has also won multiple awards along the way, including Time Out Best Local Restaurant.
“I really wanted to elevate the chaat experience, and give the London food scene a taste of authentic Indian street food,” said Tania, now 32. “People who come here to eat are usually trying a part of Indian cuisine that they’ve never eaten before, so I really didn’t want to take away from the flavours or the spice that Indians would eat. Everything about Chit Chaat Chai, from the décor and the menus, to the food is real, raw and authentic.”
Back in 2015 – not long after she first set up Chit Chaat Chai – Tania made headlines in the national media when she was invited by Salisbury City Council to run a stall at a St George’s Day event only to have her application rejected on the basis her food was not ‘English-themed’.
The council were forced to do an embarrassing U-turn and, as part of an apology, offered Tania the opportunity to trade at the event which she accepted. One year later, Chit Chaat Chai in Old York Road, Wandsworth which she funded by re-mortgaging her house.
Tania, originally from Andover in Hampshire, said: “I worked several markets in the Hampshire area before I slowly graduated to food festivals. After a year of testing the waters, I knew that I was on to something. People loved the food and they could relate to our brand and the type of experience we wanted to create.
“So, I took the next big step and started hosting sell-out supper clubs in London, and eventually ran a two-week pop-up in Covent Garden. The pop-up was really a stepping stone into the London food scene and figuring out if the market here even cared about chaat – a relatively new food concept to the city. To my pleasant amazement, our pop-up, as well as our supper clubs, did extremely well.
“The idea of starting up a business and risking everything by giving up a stable career and remortgaging my house to open an Indian restaurant is pretty crazy when 90 per cent of restaurants are said to fail. It’s quite a bold leap especially when none of my peers were doing anything of the sort and having no female role models to look up to the restaurant world.”
Tania grew up within a restaurant environment as her parents owned a place in Hampshire, selling traditional curries, tikkas and masalas. However, Tania had her own ideas and never had any intention of taking over the family business.
Tania said: “I come from a family of restaurateurs, so I’ve always known how extremely hard a career in the restaurant industry is, not to mention the 14-hour work days! It has been a dream of mine to start my own restaurant and do things differently to how my parents were doing it. I wanted to build something new, exciting and fresh for myself rather than taking over something from my family.”
And Tania has no intention of stopping at just Chit Chaat Chai – she has ambitions of opening a second restaurant and a cookbook too. “It’s amazing to have customers from our food stall in Hampshire come all the way to London just to dine with us – it’s really been a humbling experience, and one that I am only looking forward to expanding further,” she added. “Having a restaurant was always my goal but ever since I started the food stall, I knew I wanted to go bigger. I already have plans to open a second location and launch a cookbook as well!”