Native flavors: Priya Mahadevan brings a taste of South India to Charlottesville

Photo: Amy Jackson Photo: Amy Jackson

Birthdays are always special, but growing up in Priya Mahadevan’s family of nine, birthdays came with an extra privilege: choosing the day’s menu.

“We always asked for this lentil and vegetable stew called sambar, with roasted potatoes and masala vadais, which are a fried lentil snack,” Mahadevan says. “Payasam (also called kheer) was the dessert of choice.”

A South India native, Mahadevan was raised on a diet of vegetarian, gluten-free, fresh foods from vendors who came directly to the house with a bounty of fruits and veggies. So when she moved to the area after a career as a political journalist, she pivoted back to what she knew best: food.

“I started my foodie career by writing a food blog that then led to catering orders and a stall at the City Market for six years,” she says. “I made South Indian food my business because Charlottesville did not have any representation of the food from my region.”

Now a caterer (“I pride myself on being the only purely vegetarian gig in town”), Mahadevan’s Suvaiyana line of artisan chutneys, soups, and spices are area must-eats. Below, we asked the cook to give us her own list of can’t-live-without foodie faves, from her cooking music of choice to what she reaches for at midnight.

Always on the bar: Port

Special-occasion drink: Champagne with Cassis

Energy source: My family and exercise

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and English muffin

Lunch spot: Home, sweet home

Chinese restaurant order: Never had Chinese food in America!

Go-to comfort food: Rice and yogurt with sautéed spinach on the side (a typical south Indian meal)

Sandwich: Roasted zucchini, onion, and tomato with fresh mozzarella

Unusual ingredient: Asafetida

Healthy snack: Apple and peanut butter or Gruyére cheese

Unhealthy snack: Nachos

Condiment: Kerala black pepper

Chocolate: Marzipan

Grocery-store cookie: Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter cookies

Dessert: Payasam (Indian pudding)

Beer: Phoenix (Mauritian beer)

Ice cream flavor: Pistachio and coffee

Brunch—sweet or savory?: Both

Kitchen aroma: Cardamom and coriander

Always in the home fridge: Yogurt

Always in the pantry: Dal and rice

Bodo’s order: Everything bagel with jalapeño lime cream cheese

Salad bar toppings: Raisins and toasted almonds

Cut of meat: No meat for this vegetarian

Fish: No fish for this vegetarian

Vegetable: Brussels sprouts and zucchini

Midnight snack: Glass of milk

Knife: Tomodachi series

Appliance: Vitamix

Cookbooks: Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More

Mentors: My mom

Dream trip: Mediterranean cruise (hopefully not a dream for much longer)

Favorite food city: New Delhi

Cooking clothes: Soft and comfortable

Kitchen shoes: Flip-flops

Cooking music: Spanish Guitar/Sufi/Bollywood

First food memory: Dal rice mush oozing with aromatic ghee and a side of pappadum hand-fed by my dad

Best meal ever: Amethyst, a fusion restaurant in Chennai, India