^^^ These are the samosas at Moksha restaurant—so good!
Back in the spring I began a blog series on influencers on the Seattle vegan scene. I had the privilege of speaking with Renee Press from Fire and Earth Kitchen, and I’m so excited to tell you that her all vegan cooking school is opening in a matter of days! Then I spoke with Natalie Evans of the Bellevue Farmers Market about the POP Club! David, Jonathan, and I enjoyed many weeks of the summer market, and the fun activities for kids! In June I interviewed Tom Thanu of Spice Route and Moksha restaurants and had every intention of sharing his interview over the summer. And life got in the way. Now here we are at the end of October—how the heck did that happen?
Without further ado……
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.
^^^ This is the vegan thali plate at Moksha. It’s a bit of a sampler platter, with several different items. Absolutely delicious!
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.
^^^ Another amazing meal at Moksha! The Ginger Vanilla Martini is a must have!
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.
FD: Tell us a little bit about your background. Why did you want to start a restaurant?
CT: I moved to the states in 1995. I went to school at UW, then I worked at Intel for sometime, then worked at Microsoft.. I was an engineer.
One big thing I went through when I came here, I couldn’t eat the food I was accustomed to eating anywhere here. I’d never had the food they served before. All of the Indian restaurants were northern Indian. When I came here I couldn’t find the food that I was used to in [Southern] India. That’s when I went to a Vietnamese restaurant. Even though I really longed for what I missed, [they cooked with some familiar ingredients]. I called home and got the recipes from my mother and I started cooking them. I saw a lot of people that were from the south of India, but the options were really limited. I decided to start a restaurant to see if I could be successful or not. Spice Route has now been open for 10 years, and Moksha has been open for 4 years.
^^^ Moksha is so beautiful—a perfect date night spot!
FD: What would you like to tell others about veganism?
CT: My thing to people who want to try vegan food, who are scared of it—give it a shot. It’s not spicy. It’s not a fad. It’s not soups and salads alone. There’s so much variety and diversity, taste that one can try. It’s something that’s been there for a very long time. I recommend that people come and explore and see what they like.
It’s also medicine, when done right. Stick to the basic principles of food, and it is a medicine. Made with fresh herbs, fresh spices, you can’t go wrong with that. We don’t use msg, preservatives, extra salt. We don’t use any processed foods, it’s all fresh, tried and tested. Healthy food, healthy tasting, sustainable, delicious—is veganism! People have lived for 90, 100 years being vegan. It’s not that you need to eat pork or beef or chicken or any meat to live long—it’s quite the opposite. Food is a part of life. The other part of life is being active. It’s a balance, it’s not just food . Once you have a balanced life you will have a healthy life.
Thank you so much for your time Chef Tom! Seattle friends—please check out his amazing restaurants! Tell them Fried Dandelions sent you 😉 Also check out the upcoming classes at Spice Route restaurant!