The Pakalachian Food Truck Blends Traditions | Listen

By: Erin Byers Murray

A Virginia food truck couple combines flavors of Pakistan and Appalachia

Founders of The Pakalachian Food truck, Katlin and Mohsin Kazmi, pose

While Katlin Kazmi was growing up at her grandmother’s side in Virginia, making apple butter and pickles at the local Castlewood Cannery, her future husband and business partner, Mohsin Kazmi, was growing up in New Jersey, forever in search of foods from his father’s home country of Pakistan. Mohsin’s home cooking involved chicken tikka and bhindi, dishes that, during college, his mom would freeze and ship to him. For Katlin it was all about gardening, preserving, and canning both for the practical reason of sustaining throughout the seasons and because it was a community-wide tradition.

It was precisely these diverging backgrounds that attracted the two to one another when they first connected at Virginia Tech and later after Katlin finished graduate school. Their fascination with each other’s food cultures only grew as they started cooking for one another.

“Katlin would make something like mashed potatoes one night, and I would make a chicken curry the next,” Mohsin says. “The third night, we would mix up those leftovers and realized there was something there.” Entrepreneurial sparks flew, and The Pakalachian food truck was born.

Officially launched in 2018 from a converted 1996 Ford step van, The Pakalachian can best be described as a roving dinner party. Whether they’re cooking for private events, at food festivals, or as pop-up meal hosts, the Kazmis’ food remains a true blend of Pakistani techniques and dishes with Appalachian ingredients and sensibilities.

Katlin and Mohsin Kazmi prepare one of their signature dishes.

“The best way we organized our thoughts when we were first starting out was making a Venn diagram,” Mohsin says. One side might have cornbread and the other makki ki roti, a leavened bread made with cornmeal. “There are so many similarities, and this was a tangible
way to understand it.”

Based in Abingdon, Virginia, The Pakalachian Food Truck rarely travels more than 50 miles away. “If people want to taste our food, we feel strongly that they come here to do it,” Katlin says. “Appalachia is home to some delicious foods.” And you’ll taste it across their menu, as nearly everything is grown by the Kazmis in their own garden, foraged from nearby lands, or sourced from other local purveyors. When operating as a true food truck, they might serve a tomato-based chicken curry over mashed potatoes with cilantro chutney—the dish that launched the truck—while their more elevated dinners for fundraisers or pop-ups might produce inventive takes like a fermented cabbage cornbread, kilt salad chaat, or a saag made with kudzu.

People line up to try The Pakalachian Food Truck

“We’re doing every step of the process ourselves, starting from the seed, and we’re canning everything. By the time we’re serving the food, we’re already eight or more hours deep into the process,” Mohsin says.

“It’s hard because a food truck is designed to sling food, right? We’re not grabbing anything from a freezer,” Katlin adds. They also adhere to no-waste methods, keeping sustainability in mind, and aim to support the local food community through their buying power and as a support to nonprofits—there’s talk of one day opening a community kitchen for other small businesses in the area.

Both Katlin and Mohsin still have day jobs, in education and ecotourism, respectively, so the truck provides an outlet for their passion—albeit one that they admittedly can’t run on their own. Both of their families have joined the couple on their journey. You’ll often spot Katlin’s father on the fryer, and her grandfather is assembling the sandwiches. Mohsin’s mom might be outside working the crowd and taking orders while Katlin’s mom is watching their son. “It’s truly a family affair,” Katlin says.

Must-Try Recipes From The Pakalachian Food Truck

Plated garden pakoras

Garden Pakoras

Plated Appalachian Bhindi

Appalachian Bhindi

Plated butternut squash kofta

Butternut Squash Kofta


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