Turmeric: The Spice is Right

In Vienna, Turmeric is putting out healthy—and flavor-packed—Indian cooking.

Turmeric’s tandoori chicken arrives vividly spiced. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Slideshow: Inside Turmeric

Tucked into a strip mall along Vienna’s main drag, Turmeric is
the latest venture from Suku Nair, owner of the nearby Amma Vegetarian
Kitchen. Nair and his family—son Srijith and wife Sridevi help run his
ventures—first filled the space with a fast-casual concept (think Chipotle
gone Indian) called Aditi Bistro, but customers said they’d prefer a
sit-down spot with a bar. So Nair swapped out the bright color scheme for
earthy, muted tones, lined one wall with carvings of Indian deities, and
converted the back counter to a bar. He called the new place Turmeric,
after the yellow seasoning ubiquitous in Indian cooking.

Tandoori-cooked chicken wings, juicy and greaseless, are a
great way to start a meal, and crispy samosas have a nice hint of heat.
For the main event, curries are divided into “regional“ and “traditional.”
Two dishes from the Kerala state in southwest India stand out among the
regional choices: the Cochin shrimp curry—meaty prawns bobbing in a silky,
coconut-laced stew—and Malabar fish curry, filled with tender chunks of

Traditional options include a bright-green saag—the
spinach-based curry is less heavy than typical, creamy renditions—with an
almost grassy flavor. A dish of yellow lentils, subtly seasoned with
garlic, ginger, and mustard seed, is similarly lightened, and only a few
tiny pools of oil dot the lamb rogan josh, with gamey hunks of
meat and fragrant gravy.

Nair and his family chose the name Turmeric—known as much for
medicinal properties as for flavor enhancement—to highlight his kitchen’s
emphasis on healthy food. Since his Aditi days, the restaurateur has been
encouraging his chefs to hold back on fats and to use olive oil in place
of ghee, the clarified butter employed in abundance in other
Indian kitchens.

The result is food that’s vibrant with flavor but doesn’t leave
you feeling stuffed or unenthusiastic about your next meal—even, Nair
insists, if you choose the $10 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet: “I have lunch
here every day, and by 4 o’clock I’m so hungry I have to eat

This article appears in the September 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.