When you are strolling around the top end of the main street in the scenic city of Nelson, just follow your nose and make sure it's tuned for curry and you will soon arrive at the Kootenay Tamil Kitchen restaurant and Indian grocery at 660 Baker Street.
Well I did. I followed my sniffer. And I got to enjoy a delightful feast for both the eyes and tongue. My taste buds were firing on all cylinders.
This is a Tamil greeting similar to the Hindi "Namaste" which can roughly be translated to "Welcome, esteemed guest!"
When you enter the restaurant, you can feel a family type cheerful vibe wash over you. This is created by the friendly, smiling staff, the warm ambiance, colorful walls and exotic Indian merchandise on display.
I am so very excited to have found a restaurant in this part of the Kootenays that serves South Indian food, a cuisine I encountered in my numerous travels to India which kindles fond memories of happy times in the past.
Let me tell you now about my experience at the Kootenay Tamil Kitchen and I will try to explain some of the dishes on the menu with my humble understanding of this cuisine.
So, my cute lunch date, my hubby ordered a chai, a fragrant sweet black tea with milk, fresh ginger and cardamom while I started out with a salty lassi, a drink I had learned to love on the hot Indian subcontinent.
Lassi is a popular traditional yogurt based drink, a blend of yogurt and water, sometimes sugar, salt, spices and/or fruit are added.
The Kootenay Tamil Kitchen makes their own delicious yogurt. Be sure to try one of their yummy drinks! How about the mango lassi, your kids are guaranteed to love that one, or perhaps the sweet cardamom lassi for the more adventurous!
Since I was super hungry, I ordered some interesting appetizers.
First up: Pani Puri - 6 dainty little deep fried hollow snacks, stuffed with spicy potato mixture and served with tangy tamarind chutney. Your task is to drizzle the chutney on the puri ball and pop one at a time in your mouth to acquire the complex flavors in one go. Let me tell you that it's hard to share these small scrumptious delicacies , even with your partner. He will likely have to order his own.
Then I shared the Paruppu Vadai with my hubby. Yes, you heard right. I was feeling generous. I am kidding, of course. Those are 4 crispy vegan lentil and chana dhal fritters, mildly spiced but bursting with flavors of fennel, cumin, ginger, cilantro, red onions and curry leaves, served with chutney. Yummy!
My honey bunny (haha, my nickname for him) and I also nibbled on pappadams, thin gluten free lentil crackers.
Other appetizer options besides spicy wings, special marinated and baked chicken, fish and shrimp are Bajj. These are gluten free chickpea battered delights (sometimes also called pakodas), some contain veggies, onions or Indian cheese (paneer) and are usually served with chutney.
The Kootenay Tamil Kitchen also serves fresh in house made samosas with a selection of different fillings, everybody's favorites! The appi menu even boasts my good old standby of my vegetarian days in India while riding trains across the country: the vegetable cutlet, the Indian version of the Beyond burger.
Then my main course arrived: a Masala Dosa.
A Dosa is a huge, delicate, thin, crispy crepe, made from fermented rice and lentil batter. It is vegan and gluten free! Yay! That is a welcome bonus! It is definitely a signature dish of South Indian cooking. Masala Dosa is a crepe, stuffed with a spiced potato mixture and then rolled up burrito like. It is usually big and impressive, barely fits on the serving plate and is served with a side of Sambar (lentil based tamarind flavored vegetable stew) as an amuse bouche and cashew chutney. In my mind's eye I still see the Dosa cook back in India in a bazaar, sitting there, cross legged in front of an enormous tawa, ever so expertly spreading out his fermented batter with such precision and skill to produce a perfect Dosa every time. Such artistry! Food does indeed invoke such memories that allows one to time travel. You have to sample a Dosai for yourself at this amazing restaurant. You can enjoy them plain, but I recommend taking a good look at the Dosa menu to choose your perfect filling. Too many to mention now, but don't miss out on the Mysore Dosa.
Another bonus: my Dosa for only $10 was very affordable.
Doug chose his main course from the curry section of the menu. He found a very unusual item: the goat curry, a highly aromatic dish of goat meat (bone in), slowly simmered to perfection with a special blend of in house ground spices, made by Chef Martina. It was served with saffron flavored basmati rice and a cucumber garnish. What a spectacular and delicious meal!
Other popular must haves available here at the KTK are the lamb curry, 3 different curried chicken dishes, Tandoori chicken, fish and prawn , as well as numerous vegetarian items such as Channa Masala (spicy stewed chickpeas), Paneer Kurma (Indian cheese in cashew and coconut gravy!!!) and many many more.
There are more exotic dishes to discover such as Kalavai Sadham (rice,dhal and veggies cooked together in a one pot meal style), Idlis (steamed rice cakes) and Uthappam Veggies (soft,spongy small Dosai with veggies, Sambar and chutney). Too bad these guys are not open for breakfast right now, because those are staple breakfast items for international travelers in India.
By the way I found all the dishes very flavorful, but not excessively hot rather relatively mild, well adjusted and pleasing to our Western palate. For the people who are fire eaters, just ask for a side of hot sauce....hehe!
The executive chef and owner Ciraj personally inquired how my hubby and I liked our lunch. He really cares about his customers and has had an impressive career with lots of fine dining experience in big hotels and cruise lines. We are very lucky to have him and his wife put down roots in our community to spoil us with authentic South Indian cooking. The restaurant now also doubles as a Indian grocery store with lots of fresh imported spices, cookies, teas and so much more. I heard rumors of them opening a Indian Import grocery store very soon at a different location. Stay tuned!
These times we live in are challenging due to the travel restrictions, here's my suggestion to you. If you can't go to India, come here, go on a culinary adventure right here in Nelson and explore the treasure trove of authentic South Indian foods at the Kootenay Tamil Kitchen!
Best to call ahead for a reservation or take out because these folk are busy. The menu is online and they even deliver! kootenaytamil.com
Their hours of operation are Monday – Sunday 11:30 am – 8:30 pm.