Last spring Irving and I had the opportunity to take a vegan cooking class at Spice Route in Bellevue, WA. The class was taught by Tom Thanu, head chef and owner of both Spice Route and Moksha restaurants. Spice Route is in east Bellevue. It’s a fairly casual, buffet style Indian restaurant, specializing in southern Indian cuisine. Moksha is located in downtown Bellevue, right in the center of the swanky shopping area. Moksha is a somewhat fancier restaurant, with glittering lights, beautiful decor, and a more upscale feel to it. Both restaurants prepare delicious food, with many vegan options available.
Back to the class—We were lucky to attend a small class with just four of us in attendance, so I got to chat away and ask a ton of questions. We watched Chef Tom prepare several dishes for us, and then got to sample everything. The foods were delicious! As we got to chatting I told Tom about my blog, and invited him to participate in this interview series. A few weeks later I returned to the restaurant where I had the chance to ask him a few questions.
FRIED DANDELIONS: Are you vegan or vegetarian?
CHEF TOM: I am a lifelong vegetarian, eating only minimal amounts of dairy, mostly yogurt.
FD: If you could only have 10 food items in your pantry to cook with, what would they be?
CT: lentils, rice, wheat flour for bread, salt and pepper, red chili powder, turmeric, coriander powder, cilantro, cumin seeds, fennel seeds
FD: You serve vegan dishes at both of your restaurants, Spice Route and Moksha. Tell us about one of the popular dishes. Do you find that vegans seek out your restaurants because of your vegan offerings? Do you find non vegans ordering the vegan dishes, maybe without even thinking about it?
CT: Popular is very subjective, because I may like something and someone else likes something else, but from my point, I like the dal fry—urud dal cooked with spices. It’s very mild, not spicy. A misconception that people have is that Indian food is spicy because it’s cooked with spices. It’s not hot hot, it’s flavorful hot. Indian dishes can be made less in terms of heat, but very flavorful.
FD: What do you think about the vegan scene in the Seattle area? Do you think the diverse population creates a bigger demand, or availability of vegan options?
CT: One thing is that the people are much more exposed than the midwest or the south. The diversity of cultures that have been here for a long time—Indians came to the US in the 1850s for farming, and they’re still doing it in California. They’ve brought their own cultures.