The restaurant name gauntlet has been thrown down, Modesto. And standing atop the local leaderboard is the new food truck USA Curry in a Hurry.
The Indian food truck makes its grand opening debut at the Fiji Festival on Saturday. Two Modesto married couples, Pranesh and Arti Narayan and Roneel and Shoblin Chandra, are behind the great name and flavorful food that draws on their Fijian heritage.
The couples, who met as members of the Revival Center Pentecostal Church in downtown Modesto, began talking about a year ago about opening a food truck together. None of them had run a restaurant before, though Arti Narayan worked at the Hometown Buffet in the region when she was in college. Now she is the assistant principal at La Rosa Elementary School in Ceres and her husband Pranesh owns the American Auto Depot car dealership in Modesto. They met the Chandras through their church when Roneel and Shoblin emigrated from Fiji together three years ago.
“We were thinking about what to open and talking about how it really is difficult to get good Indian food here,” said Arti Narayan. “Each Indian region has its own subculture for food. So each area makes food in a different way. Fijian food is different from (the Indian mainland).”
People of Indian descent make up close to 40 percent of the population of Fiji. Many were brought to the South Pacific island nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the country was still under British colonial rule. The Modesto Fiji Festival has celebrated the country’s diverse culture annually since 2007 when it was first launched.
Until recently, Modesto was a bit of an Indian food desert. But in the past eight months two brick-and-mortar restaurants specializing in Indian food (Monsoon Restaurant and Biryani Express) have opened in the city after years without. The new Curry in a Hurry will be, at least to my knowledge, the only Indian food truck or Fijian-based restaurant in the region.
The Narayans and Chandras said what sets the Curry In a Hurry truck apart from the existing restaurants is the Fijian spin on classic Indian favorites. The truck’s namesake curries will come in chicken, lamb, goat, prawns, crab and duck variations depending on the season. Other staples will include biryani (slow-cooked basmati rice with chicken), vegetarian dishes like aloo chana (chickpeas and potatoes) and aloo matar (peas and potatoes); and starters and sides like samosas (deep-fried triangles of vegetables and potatoes), dhal (a soup made from varying combinations of lentils, peas and beans), and popular flatbreads like naan and roti.
Entrees will run between $7 and $12, and sides like naan and samosas will be between $1 to $3 per order (two samosas per order).
Shoblin Chandra is the truck’s chef and all of her recipes come from her family, most of whom still live in Fiji. She began cooking with her mother at home when she was 10. She said Fijian food differs from mainland Indian food because of the blend of spices it uses.
The food truck was going to launch earlier this year, but Pranesh Narayan broke his foot falling off a 20-foot ladder in March and the project was back-burnered for three months. Now the two pairs are ready and excited to show off their truck, which was renovated and refurbished from an old taco truck.
And about that name, Arti Narayan came up with the idea for the name but worried it might be too silly at first. But reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and the truck stands out with its matte-black finish with bold white lettering and its distinctive elephant head logo. Besides its daily schedule for lunch and dinner, the food truck also will offer event catering.
“We’re an example of people emigrating and doing well and being successful citizens,” Arti said.
USA Curry in a Hurry will be at the Modesto Fiji Festival from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday at St. Stanislaus Catholic Community Center, 1416 Maze Blvd., Modesto. Admission is $5. The USA Curry in a Hurry truck will call the Revival Center parking lot, at the corner of I and 6th streets, its home for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday starting next week. Follow them on Facebook at or Instagram at www.instagram.com/usa_curry.in.a.hurry. For more information call 209-289-5551 or 209-818-8385.