Pansaari is not a typical restaurant  or café. It is a spice-filled communal space where guests are able to sip chai, browse books and journey around the world simply by opening the front doors and opening themselves to a new experience. Located in Dupont Circle, this recently opened Indian grocery market was originally funded by Kickstarter. Now, it is a local example of how healthy, natural food can treat the body as much as it can nourish it.

Pansaari stocks the most authentic, organic and natural Indian food possible. The owner, Rano Singh, only serves food that she ate at home in India. She even went so far as to import many of the products from non-profits located in India, including the Morarka Foundation and Chetana Vikas.

In Hindi, Pansaari means “grocer,” so the business acts not only as a café, but as a shop for spices, sweets and an array of gift items like pottery, clothing and soaps. For those seeking to really dig into the culinary experience, Pansaari also offers cooking classes.

Singh admits, “It’s not for everybody.” There’s no Wi-Fi, and unless someone brings their own cup, customers will have to enjoy their chai tea in the shop. Regardless, people come back because they look for something different, something that intrigues them. Simply by entering through the front doors, guests are able to explore a new experience and eat unfamiliar foods. The comfortable, communal space is able to foster a conversation among the customers. 

One conversation she hopes to foster is on what kinds of foods should be consumed. “I think we’ve all had those discussions on organic food, GMOs and not eating meat,” Singh said. Regardless, her goal is to extend the conversation by showing what India has to offer. For her, eating healthy foods without additives is not an “alternative” lifestyle; it is the way food should be, treatment for the body, mind and soul.

After 30 years of work as a pediatric physical therapist, Singh worked on a farm in Northeast D.C. While she loved her profession, she wanted more time for rest and more time to support urban farmers. When she had the idea of Pansaari, she wanted her business to support famers in her home country of India. Currently, farmers in India use traditional agricultural practices like crop rotation, but these kinds of techniques have become more and more difficult for small farmers as chemical agriculture affects the environment. With Pansaari, Singh contributes to Indian
Organic Farming, a non-profit that supports small and marginal farms by reducing the amount of chemicals used in agriculture.
In a video posted on the Kickstarter page, Singh said, “I am not an activist. I am not trying to break down the industrial food chain.” Despite this, she acts as an educator, showing how much good there is in India.

Even within her business practices, she is green and sustainable. “Nobody really  uses disposables the way we do here.” There are no plastic bags, no paper cups and for a limited offer, customers could order two snacks for the price of one if they provided their own container from home.

Pansaari is located at 1603 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20009. Learn more about the Indian store on their website here. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

About Michelle Goldchain

Michelle is a photojournalist who loves to live life by never sitting still. You can find her in art galleries in Dupont Circle, ethnic restaurants in Adams Morgan and comedy clubs in Arlington. In her spare time, when she's not typing away at a computer screen, she's probably listening to moody electronic music, watching cat videos or doodling.
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