The Story: Oh how Portland‘s food carts have changed and grown over the years. Way back in the old days of ’99, when the dream of the 90s was not just a dream in Portland, I used to eat at a lone Indian cart way up on SW 4th Avenue by the Portland State Campus. There was not a SW 4th and Hall Cart Pod back then, just a lone little cart with the name Taste of India or India Taste or one of those generic Indian food cart names. It was one of my first experiences with Portland cart eating on a regular basis, and I fell in deep like very much. Being a poor grad student with limited time and long hours at the university, this little Indian cart was a godsend. Open for dinner as well as lunch, and serving a huge amount of food for something like $5, alongside quick service, it became my number one food cart. I remember the menu being the size of a small dictionary: how do they make all that food from such a little cart? And I remember the really nice proprietor who would ask me about my studies and love life, and always gave me a free Chai tea and a big smile in the cold, dark winter months. There’s a comfort and familiarity like that from the carts you just don’t always get at restaurants.
Enter Saffron Indian Kitchen on SW Washington and 9th Ave. This is the New Portland food cart scene. Small, tight menu, and one dish they really specialize in along with warm and friendly service. Saffron specializes in the standard daily vegetarian or non-vegetarian plate: Rice, a couple of daily curries, maybe a side of fried Pakora vegetables or a piece of Naan bread. Decent, cheap, quick, filling, easy. However, Saffron also sells that Southern Indian specialty of Dosas, something I haven’t seen in many Indian carts in Portland.
Dosas are one of those fanatical foods to many people. “Oooh, they have Dosas?” someone will say, then inherently add, “I love Dosas!” Crispy on the edges and thin, flavorful, and often stuffed with a Masala vegetable curry, these big plate-sized folded pancakes usually come with flavorful chutneys or a type of thin spicy curry called Sambar served on the side. Dosas make for the perfect street food, sort of like an Indian burrito, and indeed South India is filled with Dosa stands of all kinds humble and elaborate. It’s quite a hypnotic sight watching the rhythms of a dosa vendor pour the batter, and methodically spread it into a perfect flour based crepe made for the Hindi gods.
Ah, Saffron Indian Kitchen in Portland. You might not have Portland’s biggest Indian cart menu. But you sure have the flavor.
- Dosa – served with sambhar and chutney (can be made vegan) – $6 plain, $7 masala dosa
- Vegetarian Special – Vegetable Rice, Channa Masala, Raita, Palak Paneer (spinach with cheese) – $6
- Meat Special – Lamb Biriyani, Chicken Tikka, Chicken Karahi – $7
Hours: 11am – 3pm, Mon-Fri