At the new Annapurna’s Thali vegetarian food cart in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood, the flavors have roots in the Himalayas.

Owner Gloria Pearse spent part of last summer on a vegetarian farm in Kotabagh, India. The farm sits in the foothills of the famous mountain range near the border with China and Nepal. While there, Pearse, a long-time vegetarian, was able to learn traditional vegetarian recipes from the cook.

“It was cool to see everything first-hand instead of reading it in a book,” said Pearse, 24, who lives in the Deering neighborhood and commutes by bike to her food cart, set up outside Maine Craft Distilling on Fox Street.

When she prepares food for the thali cart she begins each dish by heating oil and then adding cumin seeds to the pan, just as she learned to do in India. She cooks the seeds until they turn golden brown. Then she builds each dish from there.

Those roasted cumin seeds give all her dishes a unifying flavor, which makes mixing and matching easy.

At Annapurna’s Thali, a thali plate costs $6 and includes white rice, a chewy flatbread and two curries. Customers can choose from dal, chana masala and aloo gobhi. Or they can pay $10 for unlimited refills.


Pearse hopes to add daily specials to the curry selection in the future, such as a palak paneer she makes with tofu instead of cheese. All her curries are vegan.

“Thali is everywhere in India,” Pearse said. “Traditionally, you get this big metal plate with small metal bowls and a variety of dishes along with rice and the flatbread and something pickled.”

Like tapas and dim sum, thali is a few bites of many things. Annapurna is the Hindu goddess of nourishment.

Pearse also offers sweet and savory samosas ($2 each or three for $5). The savory versions of these deep-fried dough packets contain spiced potatoes and come with a bright, super-tasty mint chutney. Pearse uses mint from her garden and blends it with cilantro and onion to make the chutney.

The sweet samosas, which use leftover dough, contain banana mixed with Maine maple syrup and cinnamon. They’re served with a peanut butter sauce. Pearse said peanut butter and banana sandwiches were her inspiration for these samosas.

Since the traditional Indian dough that Pearse makes uses both yogurt and butter, she also makes a dairy-free dough using almond milk and soy milk. She uses the dairy-free dough to create vegan versions of both samosas.


A puffed rice snack, soy-almond milk chai masala, iced ginger tea and iced mango-hibiscus tea round out the cart’s menu.

Pearse, who has worked in the restaurant industry since she was 15, was impressed with how easy it was to find vegetarian food in India. Her first day in the country she noticed signs in restaurants and on food stands indicating the food was vegetarian. Some estimates say up to 40 percent of Indians follow a vegetarian diet, including all Jainists and many Hindus and Buddhists.

“It was incredible to know there were that many choices,” Pearse said. “I’m so used to going places and having one or two options.”

She wanted to share the plant-based abundance she experienced in India here in Portland. And it seems to be working.

A couple weeks after opening, she said demand is still increasing and some of it is coming from an unexpected group – hot dog fans.

Since the thali cart is a former hot dog stand, customers regularly ask Pearse for a hot dog.


One recent afternoon while I was waiting for my thali plate, I watched a tall, barrel-chested guy in sunglasses and a black leather jacket ask her for a hot dog. Pearse said the cart was vegetarian and explained what she had to offer. He ordered two samosas.

“They’re all willing to try it,” Pearse said.

Pearse, who grew up in Philadelphia and came to Portland, Maine via Portland, Oregon, enjoys travel and the next adventure is never far from her mind. She says she’d like to visit Cuba, but that may have to wait.

“After going to India, it feels like I need to go back,” Pearse said.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be contacted at

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