Meet Hitesh Panchal, the Cape Town-based restaurateur who serves Indian street food with a modern twist

Managing owner at Kapoochka Hitesh Panchal. Picture: Roy Potterill

Managing owner at Kapoochka Hitesh Panchal. Picture: Roy Potterill

Published Mar 19, 2024


Indian street food holds a special place in the hearts and palates of people worldwide. The vibrant flavours, enticing aromas and extensive mix of ingredients create a truly unique experience.

While classic Indian street food dishes have a timeless appeal, they are also ripe for modern reinterpretations.

In recent years, chefs and food enthusiasts have been reinventing these beloved street food staples, infusing them with contemporary twists, innovative presentations and creative flavour combinations.

Managing owner at Kapoochka Hitesh Panchal. Picture: Supplied

Hitesh Panchal is one of those chefs, working to bring back indigenous foods from centuries ago and adapting them for today's palate so people can learn not just about their cuisines, but their cultures too.

As a managing owner at Kapoochka, a Cape Town-based eatery, Panchal describes himself as a “fun-loving person who loves to entertain and create experiences”.

“I am an Indian who was born and brought up in India. I grew up in Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city that offers a diverse selection of food and culture. I was also lucky enough to travel abroad, sailing on cruise ships around the world and learning about different cultures and the types of food they like,” he said.

Panchal’s passion for the hospitality industry started at the Taj Intercontinental Hotel in Mumbai. There he started as an apprentice and then worked his way up to being part of the opening of the Zodiac Grill, which served French novel cuisine in 1986.

From there he was offered an opportunity to work in Miami on cruise ships for four years.

After this, Panchal returned to India to open a restaurant. The restaurant was successful and made a name for itself in newspapers across the country and he later left for South Africa.

“I followed my heart to SA and entered into the local hospitality industry by working at the Holiday Inn and starting a restaurant in Durban. My next career move saw me working at the CITCC as the head of catering.

“I then finally started an outlet at Makers Landing at the V&A Waterfront during the pandemic, serving Indian street food, which ultimately helped me to secure a spot at the renowned Time Out Market Cape Town in November last year,” he said.

Panchal said Kappochka, which served Indian street food with a contemporary twist, was created in December 2020 following his retrenchment during the pandemic.

He said the eatery specialised in all types of Indian street food, from the king of street food named pani puri, gol gappa or poochkas, to south Indian street food called dosa, to Punjab’s favourite, kebabs and spiced chicken cooked in a tandoor oven.

“We are pioneers in serving street food in Cape Town that tastes like, or better, than India. It is specially served by a passionate family who love to create memories and experiences each time for our clients.

Being raised in India in an Indian family who loves spices, and growing up in Mumbai and seeing food vendors serving up delicious fast foods, I was always fascinated. I did not, however, ever say that I wanted to do what they do.

“When I saw there was a gap for Indian street food in the market, without hesitation I took up this opportunity,” said Panchal.

In advising aspiring chefs, he said: “My advice is to start by mastering the fundamentals of cooking, such as chopping vegetables, making sauces, and baking bread. This will give them a solid foundation to build upon.

“Be patient, and remember opportunities are all around you. The best chefs are the ones who figure out how to make the most of every task or experience. Also, keep in mind that working in the kitchen is not as glamorous as shown on social media or television.

“It takes persistence and enjoyment in what you are doing that will help you progress. Make your work fun and learn every step of the way. Your end goal does not have to be you becoming a chef.

“You too can build a successful business and be a head chef or restaurateur.”