The rainbow of colors delicately plated in each separate compartment have become ubiquitous at Rasa Indi-Chinese Restaurant. But this plate – and many others – are more than an emblem of Asian American food. They are symbols of struggle, entrepreneurship and the will to make it in a country far from home.
Owners Richard Lee and Laxmi Tiwari Lee hail from India – he from Kolkata (home to the country’s only Chinese settlement) and she from Delhi. They moved to Chapel Hill in 2008 after short stints in Miami and Durham. As first-generation immigrants, they worked in restaurants as a way to provide for their now 8-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter in a country where the job industry felt almost impossible to crack without an extensive education.
“After coming to this country in my early 20s,” Laxmi says, “I wanted to pursue [a career in] pharmacy, but [my degree] was not valid; I’d have to redo it. That threw me off a cliff. I’m like, ‘After four years of studying so hard?’ But [we] have always been foodie people. Richard has been cooking his whole life, since a really young age.”
Before they opened Rasa in September 2013, Richard worked his way up in the local restaurant industry, from the now-shuttered Pao Lim Asian Bistro & Bar in Durham to Hunam Chinese Restaurant and Red Lotus. And everywhere he went, the feeling of a frying pan and spatula evoked the same emotions – belonging and joy.
You can catch glimpses of those feelings with every spicy bite at Rasa. Despite growing up in two different cultures, Richard and Laxmi’s Chinese and Indian experiences are united by a strong work ethic instilled during childhood.
This special lunch platter was inspired by Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights celebrated in late fall. It takes customers through a train ride of flavors beginning with the wonton soup, to the murgh makhani (butter chicken), to the sweet rice pudding garnished with pistachios. Non-Veg Thali Platter, $14.50
Rasa Indi-Chinese Restaurant
1826 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill