For many gourmands, critics, and connoisseurs, authentic cuisine is the Helen of Troy of food. Ever sought after, authentic food of any kind will send fleets of people to countries like Italy and Japan just to find the most Italian pizza or mastered sushi. Authentic fare is a point of debate amongst food purists, but real falafel or a home-cooked curry does more than start squabbles. It connects you with people across the globe and breaks down cultural barriers. When Camilla Indira Baffoni opened Pan-A-Day on the West Side, she wanted to bring the Carribean to Providence. You’ll only find authentic Carribean food here because the owner won’t have it any other way.
Camilla’s eatery is like a smack in the face in the best possible sense, and adventurous and willing diners will find they are gluttons for punishment. Everything about the storefront – from the bright-colored walls to the aromatic spices in her curries – awakens the senses as you walk through the door. The counter service restaurant was always a dream of Camilla’s. Originally from Guyana and of Indian descent, Camilla found that there were very few Carribean restaurants in Rhode Island when she arrived here in 2008. Some years later, she decided to open up Pan-A-Day, and the locale will be celebrating its two-year anniversary in July.
At Pan-A-Day, customers can find dishes that are an amalgamation of Carribean, African, and Indian cuisine. Each item is cooked the way that Camilla has experienced them in Guyana. The establishment is an extension of her culture and life, and she wants to share this part of herself with her guests. “It makes me proud of who I am and what I am representing here,” she says. For this, Rhode Islanders should be thankful – we’re getting the real deal. Often, restaurant owners will tone down spices and change recipes to accommodate the local palate, but these kinds of adjustments often compromise the authenticity of the food and change it completely. At Pan-A-Day, the compromises the cook makes are miniscule, like using boneless chicken instead of bone-in for her curries.
“I want the integrity of the meal that I’m making to taste like the way I want to eat it. The way I want to eat it is the way I want to sell it. So, you have to really embrace the flavor I’m creating.”
This strong sense of self-assuredness is a personality trait that is important and welcomed on the increasingly cosmopolitan West Side. As an immigrant and a woman of color in a male-dominated industry, Camilla’s mere presence in the business makes the South American newcomer a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs like her.
However, Camilla doesn’t see herself this way. When she came to America, gender inequality was a surprising bit of discrimination she wasn’t used to. “For me, I find that very strange because in Guyana we don’t deal with things like that. I’ve never really grew up finding that, ‘oh this is a guy thing, or this is a man’s thing.’ In my household I did not grow up like that.” Both of her sisters owned businesses in her home country, and her parents always encouraged them to carry out their ambitions. This upbringing is what gave her the confidence to open her restaurant.
Gender politics aside, Camilla’s dream is to have a line out the door of Pan-A-Day at lunchtime when her food is the most fresh. Until then, she will be plugging away, making Carribean food the best way she knows how.
7 Parade Street, Providence • 273-1506