Local Hero: Food Truck

An Interview with Basit Gauba, Director of Operations & Marketing
Photos by Stephanie Cameron

Left: Basit Gauba. Right: Duke City Smash Burger with green chile and sautéed onions.

Using traditional street foods and curries and fusing with red and green chile, Tikka Spice brings Pakistani/Indian street food to Albuquerque with a twist to fit the tastes of New Mexicans.

What inspired you to start Tikka Spice? Was there a specific dish you knew you wanted to serve?

I have always loved the food truck concept. The very first dish we served at a pop-up for a community event in 2017 was the bun kabab. It is a lentil, meat, and potato patty that we dip in an egg wash and pan-fry. Put it on a squishy bun toasted with ghee. Add onions, ketchup, and chutneys. Just like it was made back home. Serving this item and seeing the reaction on people’s faces was amazing. It lit a spark and two years later, Tikka Spice was born.

You’ve recently opened your first brick-and-mortar restaurant, but edible readers voted you best food truck. How did you decide on the menu for your food truck(s)? What are some of the challenges and rewards of serving meals from a food truck?

We recently opened up our location at 6001 Osuna Road NE, all thanks to the amazing guests that frequent the food trucks. Over time, we change our menu, making additions or taking things off. The menu is decided based on a little bit of personal interest, seasonal items, and the availability of certain products and resources. The great thing about having a restaurant now is that we can serve whatever we want without being limited to space or storage capacities.

The biggest challenge with the food truck is the amount of space we are limited to. I would love to serve everything that is on our full menu, all the time, but that is just not possible. The reward of serving meals from a food truck is the ability to reach so many people. When we do events, we see so many new faces and have our food and flavors reach so many people that have not had the opportunity to try our food yet.

Can you share a bit about street food culture in Pakistan? What are some of the quintessential street snacks, and how have these shaped your menu?

Street food in Pakistan is easily accessible and easy to eat on the go. Chaats are a perfect example. Chaat literally means to lick or to taste. It will be so good that you will be licking your fingers afterward. We have on our menu our samosa chaat. The samosa is a stuffed, fried pastry filled with potatoes, peas, and spices. We load it with our chickpea curry, yogurt sauce, mint sauce, red chile chutney, tamarind chutney, pico, cilantro, and crispy chickpea noodles. It’s sweet, spicy, tangy, creamy, savory, crunchy in every bite.

Left: Samosa Chaat. Middle: Chicken Makhni Curry Bowl. Right: Chicken Tikka Tacos.

Are there some ingredients you have to source internationally? What are you able to source locally, and who are some of your favorite local partners?

We do source our spices from India and Pakistan as well as our mangoes for the mango lassi. We love New Mexico, but there are just some things that are not available here. We try to source locally as much as possible, including our green and red chile from local vendors, tortillas made locally by Sabroso Foods, buns made custom by Sergio’s Bakery, and produce such as the microgreens from Micro Hive.

Do you have a favorite sauce or chutney? What does it pair with?

My favorite chutney is our tamarind chutney. It is sweet and slightly spicy. It goes great with samosas, fries, and literally on anything.

Staffing has been an ongoing struggle in the food industry for the past couple of years. How have you handled staffing challenges as you continue to expand?

Staffing has definitely been a challenge for us, just like other organizations all over the state. We take pride in the way our team is treated. When we say you will be joining our family, we mean it. We give fair wages to our staff—on average they earn $17–$18 hourly with tips. We offer paid time off starting day one. Full-time benefits like 401(k). Mostly, the staff coming in to fuel our expansion has been through word of mouth. Referrals through our current employees.

Is there a local food issue that’s important to you?

We are very big on feeding those less fortunate. Providing food across our communities who are underserved. Giving back is one of our core values as a company and is something we live on a daily basis.

What’s next?

We plan to expand. We plan to grow and serve our flavors all over. Whether it is our fried chicken brand, Kūkri, that launched January of this year downtown (we just opened our second location at the end of May on the Westside) or bringing our new smash burger brand, Stackers, to the Albuquerque community.

Anything else you’d like edible readers to know?

We are honored to even be mentioned for this amazing award. We appreciate the support and love that we get from the Albuquerque community. From our family to yours, thank you!