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Chef Hitesh Panchal of Kapoochka
Photograph: Bruce Tuck

In The Kitchen With: Hitesh Panchal

While the mixed platters of Paani puri fly out of the kitchen, chef Hitesh Panchal says there’s a hidden gem on the Kapoochka menu you simply can’t miss.

Richard Holmes
Written by
Richard Holmes

Stepping in the Watershed entrance of the Time Out Market Cape Town, the first stall you’ll encounter is often one of the busiest. And that’s no surprise, with chef Hitesh Panchal dishing up his memorable local take on Indian street food at Kapoochka.

He’s made waves – and plenty of loyal customers – for his creative ways with crisp Paani puri, but the menu extends to a mouth-watering selection of classic Indian plates.

Think feather-light dosa, filled with flavour-packed braised potatoes served with lentil sambar and green chutney, or succulent tandoori malai tikka, with chicken marinated in cashew nuts, cream and a signature house blend of spices, then roasted in a tandoor oven and served with a buttery paratha.

Panchal is flanked in the kitchen by his two sons, making Kapoochka a true family affair. We asked Hitesh to dish up the secrets to his hugely popular menu...

Tell us about Kapoochka...

We specialise in Indian street food; tantalising food found all across the streets of India. The most popular dish is an item called Paani puri: a crispy ball filled with lots of yummy deliciousness. A crowd favourite is the original filling: a mixture of spiced potatoes, chickpeas and lentils. We then fill it with coriander chutney, a sweet and sour tamarind, and chilli chutney, and serve it with spiced chilled water. Pour it in and pop it in your mouth in one bite!

How has the set-up of the Time Out Market Cape Town made you rethink your cooking?

We specialise in street food, and usually street food is served quick, and on the go. Being at Time Out Market Cape Town has forced us out of our comfort zone and pushed our food to new heights! At Time Out Market Cape Town our menu is curated to be more of a dining experience, with a higher level of presentation and delivery. This has elevated our menu and has changed what we all know about street food found in India.

Photograph: Bruce Tuck |An elevated take on masala dosa at Kapoochka

As a chef, how do you go about creating new dishes? What’s the starting point?

Every dish starts with the customer in mind. I ask myself: ‘What do I want my customer to experience, taste and feel?’ The concepts start with my upbringing in India, and what I have experienced and want to share with those here in South Africa. Once I decide on a dish, I create a recipe inspired by the memory and never forget to curate a South African flair to it to showcase my South African side.

Tell me a secret about your kitchen…

From our spices all the way down to the dried red chilli in our sauces, 80 percent of our ingredients come from India itself! And from my hometown actually! Another cool fact about Paani puri is its ability to deliver a variety of flavours and textures in one bite. The flavour develops as you chew: from spicy to sweet to sour.

What is the most popular dish on the menu?

Our most popular dish is the Mixed Tasting Platter, which offers a variety of puris to try. We recommend this because the customer gets to try three types of filings of the Paani puri, and can indulge in more than one favourite of theirs.

Photograph: Bruce Tuck |Crispy Paani puri

Which is your personal favourite? What do you love about it?

The Dahi samosa, also known as the Samosa Chaat in India. I love it so much and am so confident serving it that since I’ve opened, I tell people ‘If you don’t like it, I’ll pay for it’. Up until now, I have not paid for it, and all it has done has left customers coming back for more!

I love the samosa we use: it’s a Punjabi samosa which is unique itself as it is completely different to what we all know as a samosa in South Africa. We serve it on a bed of chickpea gravy and dress it up in all our signature sauces, topped off with vermicelli and pomegranate seeds. Absolutely a hidden gem on our menu!

What’s the best drink from the Market to pair with it?

I recommend our fresh lime soda; our twist on a virgin mojito. It’s spiced lemonade with sugar syrup, lemon juice, mint and a homemade spice blend which adds a sharp kick to the normal lemonade we all know and love. It’s a very light and refreshing drink that pairs well with the richness of the samosa.

Outside the Market, which is your favourite restaurant in Cape Town?

Oriental Cuisine [in Parklands] serves authentic Chinese cuisine. It is owned by a lady who is the server and host; the food is great and made with love.

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