Tucked in a little corner of The Courtyard off of Franklin Street and South Roberson Street is a warm, inviting cafe called Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe. This cafe was an instant hit with students from UNC and residents of Chapel Hill, many who used to go to owner Vimala Rajendran’s home to get her wonderful Indian food.
I had heard from many people about this great lady who served the most incredible Indian dishes from her home several years ago. You just gave her a donation if you were able to cover the expenses, but I never got around to going. A couple of years ago, a friend told me she had opened a restaurant, and low and behold it was Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe. I was hooked the minute I walked in the door. Here was this small, but inviting place. You walk up to the counter and give the staff your order and most times you will see Vimala in the kitchen along with her other chefs, stirring sauces, chopping locally purchased vegetables or meat, or attending to some other task.
When you first enter the cafe, you are immediately dazzled by the aromas wafting from the kitchen: curries, ginger, cardamom, cumin, coriander and chilies fill the air. People line up from the door to the counter to order their food. The menu changes daily, depending on what ingredients are available locally, but there are some standard items on the menu as well. The staff is very friendly and laid back, much like Vimala is herself. If you didn’t know any better, you might think you had walked into an organic diner in Asheville.
We started off our meal with two samosas. When they came out I was shocked at how big they were. These were the biggest samosas I ever seen! The samosas were baked in the oven instead of fried, which I liked. The dough was more like a pie crust. Inside the samosa were lentils, peas and potatoes in turmeric and other spices. They were served with two sauces, one is a spicy cilantro dip and the other with tamarind. By the time I finished my samosa, I could almost have gone home satiated, but we of course wanted to try some entrées. We also had a mango lassi. It was smooth, creamy and the mango is a nice, fruity taste.
We decided to order specials this time and were very happy with our choices. I ordered the vegetable curry thali dish, that featured turnips, cauliflower and yard long beans. The sauce was somewhat on the mild side. It was rich and warm, very soul satisfying. It was served on a metal platter along with some pampadum, a crispy lentil wafer that has been fried. The pampadum went perfectly with a pickled dish Vimala was trying out that day. The pickled dish had lotus root, green beans, cauliflower, carrots and preserved lemons. Wow, every bite I took was an explosion of flavor in my mouth! It was a bit salty for my taste, but I’m sure that was from the preserved lemons. I loved this little spicy picked dip! The platter also had some Dal, which is a lentil stew that is very mild and calms your mouth down after eating some of the spicy dishes. This was served with brown rice, which also absorbs some of the spices. The platter also had another long bean dish with lentils and it also had some Raita, which is a yogurt and cucumber sauce, which is a very typical Indian side dish that is also meant to help with calming the spiciness of the other dishes.
Scott’s dish was a shrimp curry. It has nice big pink pieces of shrimp in it along with some long beans. His dish was spicier than mine, and the sauce was thinner, so it needed to be eaten with a spoon. He had some Naan bread so that he could use the bread to sop up the wonderful curry sauce.
I was already pretty full by the time we had dessert. We split (thankfully) a piece of gingerbread cake that had a cream cheese filling. It was really fluffy and had a nice kick with the molasses. If I wasn’t so full, I could have easily eaten this by myself.
While we were eating, Vimala stopped by our table and gave me a peck on the forehead. Her generous and loving nature bubbles out from her very naturally. She answered a few questions I had about the dishes we ate and then was on to another table, laughing and having fun.
Vimala’s Curryblossom has really expanded beyond just serving food at its restaurant. A group of employees from Vimala’s are teaching classes in sustainability called Carrboro Greenspace. One of the classes they recently held was about growing mushrooms, which my husband, Scott, attended. They have had others on making cheese, and wild fermentation. Vimala is also holding Indian cooking classes. The next one is on April 15 where she will be sharing some of the things she learned from her recent trip back to India. They are also holding an advanced cheese making class on April 29.
Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe is located at 431 West Franklin Street (in the Courtyard) and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11:30am-3pm and 5pm-9pm.