July 14, 2009 / 3:58 PM / 10 years ago

World Chefs: Ramaiah's food craving leads to new career

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Cravings for the street food of her childhood in India and a newspaper article about fast food franchises convinced Sunitha Ramaiah’s to abandon a career as a corporate attorney to start her own restaurant.

Sunitha Ramaiah is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Andres Rengifo Valencia/Handout

Bombay Talkie, which opened four years ago in New York, showcases family recipes and her own twists on the street food she ate while living on her grandfather’s tea estate in Ooty (Udhagamandalam) in southern India.

The 38-year-old, self-taught chef spoke to Reuters about Indian food and the inspirations she draws from her native land.

Q: What will people experience at your restaurant?

A: “It’s a modern take on an Indian tea house. What I want people to come away with is the breadth of flavors that the cuisine has to offer. It’s not the standard curry house recipes. Indian food can be light. It can be very simple. Not everything has to be cream-based sauces. You can do a lot with very little. That’s the beauty of street food.”

Q: What kind of trend are you seeing in Indian cuisine?

A: “In New York, for example, the first Indian restaurants were offering Panjabi dishes. Then you saw the trend in the 1990s this whole push for fusion. Now, I see people are exploring again that Indian food has a broad range but they are going for the simpler taste. They are going for the everyday food.”

Q: How does this trend fit into our current economy?

A: “With this recession it’s also price friendly for consumers because you are working with everyday food and flavors, so it’s doesn’t have be so expensive. You can have a lot of bang for the buck.”

Q: What inspires your cooking?

A: “I am still inspired by my trips to India all the time and all the fine-dining establishments there. They have come a long way. I’m also very inspired by tapas-style eating and the Japanese aesthetics of food.”

Q: What was your favorite Indian street food growing up?

A: “I’m from southern India so dosa (a savory pancake) is our street food.”


Chicken Biryani (Serves 4 to 6 people)


1 inch piece ginger, peeled

5 or 6 large cloves garlic

4 whole cloves

1/2 stick cinnamon

1 large handful fresh coriander leaves

6 small green chilies

5 shallots

2 tablespoons ghee

4 pods cardamom

1 handful fresh mint

1 red onion, cut in half and then lengthwise

1 tomato, cut into medium size pieces

3 teaspoons salt

2 lbs chicken breast, skinned and cut into 1-inch thick


2 cups basmati rice, washed

3 1/2-4 cups boiling water

3 teaspoons lime juice

1. Preset oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a blender, put in the ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, coriander leaves, green chilies and shallots. Add a little water (1/8 cup) and blend to create a smooth paste. Set aside.

3. In a cast iron pot, heat the ghee on medium-high heat. Add the cardamom and mint leaves and stir for one minute. Add the red onion and cook in the ghee until translucent and browned around the edges. Add the tomato and cook for three minutes.

4. Add the contents of the blender and cook for five minutes. Add the salt and chicken pieces. Cook in the masala for three minutes.

5. Add one cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and let cook for 30 minutes. Add the basmati rice and three additional cups of water. Add salt to taste.

6. Add the lime juice and bring to a boil. Cover and put in the oven until the rice is cooked, about 20 minutes.

Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney

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