Amma’s Vegetarian Kitchen is a tiny little south-Indian-style eatery off Maple Avenue in Vienna. It’s rather well-known in the Indian community for reasons I cannot quite fathom after visiting it for the first time last week.
This is not a sit-down restaurant but more in the nature of a fast-food joint, Indian-style, so don’t go in expecting tablecloths and fancy silverware. You order your food at the counter, pay for it, and minutes later you collect it in styrofoam plates and cups.
All of which is fine and good, especially when you’re in a hurry, and the food did arrive pretty fast, and it was reasonably priced.
For starters we had batata wadas, a popular street snack from India. It’s a mashed-potato dumpling that’s coated with chickpea batter and fried. But our first bites of the wada revealed an unpleasant sourness that tasted a bit like bad cooking and, worse, like spoilt food.
My husband, a south Indian who loves the food of his native land, ordered an Amma’s Feast– what is commonly known as a “thali” or “plate” in India. It is basically a complete and typical Indian meal on a plate– rice, chapatis or puris (puffy, fried breads), a couple of different curries, one or two cooked subzis or vegetables, a sweet dish like a payasam (a milky pudding) and other accoutrements like poppadums and pickles. I wondered about the tofu-stuffed dosa on the menu, but then settled for an onion chilli dosa which sounded like it might be an interesting, spicier counterpart of the tasty but tired masala dosa.
Again, disappointment. The thali was bland except the chana masala which, incidentally, is not a south Indian dish. The onion chilli dosa was just the tired old masala dosa with a large quantity of chopped raw onions and green chillies spread inside around the potato stuffing. Not what I was hoping for.
Still hopeful, we ordered the Mysore Coffee. South Indian coffee, prepared by filtering very finely powdered coffee beans through a special steel filter, is a delicacy by itself, and one I’ve missed sorely since I moved out of India. Many local restaurants offer south Indian coffee but it usually turns out to be instant coffee mixed in with milk and water. Since Amma’s is supposed to be a genuine South Indian restaurant, we expected different, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The coffee, pulled out of– I imagine– a refrigerator and reheated in a microwave, tasted just like instant coffee mixed in with milk.
All in all, this is not a place this Indian would eat in again. At least not willingly.