Turmeric is the dried root of curcuma longa, a rhizome native to South Asia that is related to ginger. It has been used for some 2,500 years, probably first as a yellowish dye, then for its flavoring and medicinal properties.
Turmeric today is a key ingredient in many Indian dishes, and modern research has verified its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Some studies even suggest it may reverse liver damage, halt or slow the spread of some cancers, and retard the progression of Alzheimerís disease.
All of that has nothing to do with Turmeric, the restaurant in Vienna, except, of course, for its use as a seasoning — and possibly the hopes of those who consume the dishes regularly hoping for some of the medicinal benefits.
Turmeric, the restaurant, is related, by ownership and cooking, to longtime favorite Amma's Vegetarian Kitchen, just down the street, but the approach is very different. Ammaís, as the name proclaims, is strictly vegetarian and specializes in South Indian dishes, while Turmeric offers regional Indian cuisine including both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
Indian restaurants can be approached several ways. One is the lunch buffet ($9.95 daily, $10.95 weekends), which offers a changing all-you-can-eat selection of four vegetarian and four non-vegetarian dishes. (The buffet caveat always is to keep your servings separate so flavors donít mingle and cause dishes to lose their distinctive character.)
Another way is to stick with known favorites, and there are plenty on this menu: chicken tandoori, chicken tikka, lamb, chicken or salmon vindaloo, rogan josh — or try some of the less-familiar regional dishes, such as Malabar fish curry from Kerala, fish curry from Goa, lamb pasada from Delhi, or chilli chicken from Nepal.
Or, try some of each. Either way you will be satisfied. The boneless marinated chunks of chicken Tikka, for instance, are so tender they literally melt in the mouth and so subtly flavored it takes a moment to appreciate and savor the many layers.
Likewise, the coconut lamb, listed as an appetizer, consists of cubes of peppered lamb sauteed with onion, flakes of coconut and spices that are deftly flavored and amazingly tender. The baked eggplant, a dish from Punjab, is a delicious mash of charbroiled eggplant that is then cooked with onions, tomatoes and spices.
For those who like okra, the spiced okra, a regional dish from Uttar Pradesh, is a must — the okra cooked with tomatoes, onion, chilies and spices, with a touch of fennel seed.
The breads and the sides should not be ignored. A bread basket includes paratha aloo onion kulvhs, and puri, or you can stick with fresh-baked naam. A hot-and-sweet sampler includes raita, lemon pickle and mango chutney, all of which can enhance and complement the flavors of the different dishes.
As for dessert, there's a choice of three Indian favorites: rice pudding cooked in milk with saffron and dried fruits, topped with nuts; patties of soft homemade cheese served in milk and rosewater syrup; and honey-soaked milk dumplings — none of them seasoned with turmeric.