We first happened upon Chaia a few weeks ago at the Dupont Farmer’s Market, excited at the prospect of a new food option to try. Intrigued by the delicious smells coming from the Chaia stand, we waited dutifully in a long line and ordered a trio of creamy braised chard and potato with green sauce tacos – the only flavor that hadn’t sold out that day. We don’t even like chard, yet somehow, these tacos were the most delicious thing we had tasted in quite some time. They were topped with microgreens, which gave them an added crunch, and drizzled in a chipotle yogurt dressing that nicely enhanced the vegetables’ natural flavors.
We spoke with Chaia cofounder Bettina Stern about how these tacos came to be in DC.
Q: What inspired you to begin Chaia?
A: Chaia is inspired by our many combined years of cooking together [with cofounder Suzanne Simon], sharing our kitchen wisdom with friends, family and followers, and our personal travels abroad. Our experience of sourcing and preparing fresh ingredients, the natural health benefits of eating locally-grown produce and mostly plants, combined with the superior taste, look and quality of in-season foods determined the direction we wanted to head in when we created the concept of Chaia’s ‘farm-to-tacos’.
Q: How do you determine which ingredient combinations to use?
A: We are committed to using locally-grown, in-season produce. This means our menu changes dramatically throughout Washington’s four true seasons. Right now, we are still in deep-winter mode. This means we are more limited than we will be come August, when we’ll have a plethora of combination options. Yet, at market – where we always serve a trio of tacos – we always want a degree of color and texture options and a variety of distinct and complex flavors. We also try and change our sauces and our garnishes equally as much as we alter our filling variations. Despite this long, cold winter season, we are still experimenting with new ingredients: our latest taco is made with roasted Jerusalem artichoke [sunchokes], salsa verde and Parmesan.
Q: We’ve read that your handmade tortillas take up to 5 hours to make. Can you describe some of the process for us?
A: Our tortillas are made by hand and to order using organic masa harina. We hand-press them and grill them at market. They are naturally gluten-free, as they are made with corn flour. [District Style note: If you’re interested in making your own tortillas, check out Bettina and Suzanne’s tips here.]
Q: What are your future plans for Chaya?
A: We’re expanding! We are currently in search for a brick and mortar space in the city. For now, you can find us [at the farmer’s market near] the White House on Thursdays and at [at the farmer’s market at] Dupont Circle on Sundays. We will be at more FreshFarm markets starting in April.