By Carole Verona
The first thing you see when you walk into Nirvana Indian Bistro is a poster outlining the health benefits of cumin, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric, the spices most commonly used in Indian cuisine. It is the proportion and blending of those spices that give each dish on Nirvana’s menu a unique and delicious taste.
“I want to keep the food healthy,” explained Nabin Chhantyal, owner and chef of the restaurant, which opened on June 12 at 417 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill, in the space formerly occupied by the Lucky Dog Saloon. Since opening, business has been brisk, especially at dinnertime, so Chhantyal is already thinking about adding another cook to the two now working there.
“Indian cooking is very complex,” he said, “and that’s why it will taste different from place to place. It depends on how passionate you are and how precisely you measure and mix the spices. That all comes from experience. The restaurant specializes in Punjabi style cooking from the region of North India, although there are a few items on the menu that are Indo-Chinese fusion and South Indian.”
If you’ve never tasted Indian food, Chhantyal is eager to dispel whatever stereotypes about it you may have. “Many Americans think that the food is hot and oily, but I want to change that. I use as little oil as possible. My food is mild for those people who don’t want to be adventurous. If something on the menu is spicy, we let people know. I want the food to appeal to all clientele.”
On a recent visit to the lunch buffet, there were eight vegetarian and six meat entrees to choose from, two desserts and a side bar with a garden salad and selection of chutneys. Choices on the buffet change every day. Highlights on the dinner menu include tandoori salmon, grilled salmon marinated with ginger, garlic and paprika, topped with asparagus ($19) and four lamb chops, marinated in yogurt, ginger and garlic ($22). Chicken tikka masala, another specialty, is on the dinner menu for $14 as well as on the lunch buffet.
Chhantyal is from the small village of Baglung in Nepal. “My village is from up in the Himalayas. I’ve been walking all my life because we still don’t have a bus route or other transportation in my village. Nepal is a Hindu country that’s connected to India, so we share many aspects of life, including dress, language and food. We use many of the same spices in our cooking.”
Because of the tremendous loss of life and property caused by the recent Nepal earthquake, Chhantyal is donating 20% of his June/July sales to help builders now constructing earthquake-safe homes in Nepal. Many of the victims of the earthquake were from his village.
Chhantyal came to the U.S. in 2000 and worked at Aman’s Restaurant in East Norriton from 2003 to 2011. There he learned to cook and also acquired the skills necessary to manage a restaurant. He purchased Aman’s in 2011 and sold it in 2013. He then opened 401 Nirvana in Conshohocken, which he recently sold.
He is eager to share his dream for the future. As a person from the Himalayas, he wants to change the culture of fast-food franchise restaurants. “I want to go for a franchise-style restaurant, serving all healthy items. It would be called Universal Grill because it will appeal to everybody.”
Chhantyal is extremely proud of everything that he has accomplished in his life. “When I went to the U.S. Consulate in Nepal in 2011 to be interviewed for my green card, the consulate officer agreed that I am a skilled worker. As an immigrant, I have gone through so much. I had to work for almost 11 years to get my green card. I believe that most immigrants are hard working people.”
The chef/owner would like to see immigration reform that would make it easier for hard-working people to get their green cards. “Like me, many immigrants create jobs in the U.S. economy. That’s really important. My dream is to go to the Senate and the House and say, ‘Look at me. I can create jobs in the U.S. economy. I work so hard to make this country even better. Why so much politics, you know?’”
Chhantyal, 40, lives in King of Prussia with his wife Anita, a beautician. Their daughter Aanchal, 19, also helps out at the restaurant.
Nirvana is open every day. Lunch buffet is served on weekdays from 11.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. and on weekends from noon to 3 p.m. Dinner hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 5 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant is BYOB, and Nirvana now delivers.
For more information, call 484-532-7949, or email email@example.com