At the heart of things, chef Asha Gomez will tell you, the South is the South, whether you’re in her native India or in her adopted American hometown, Atlanta. “Southern regions across the globe are tied,” Gomez says. “We are all close to the tropics. We all grow the same kind of produce. That is huge for me. I can get almost anything here I grew up eating.”
At her restaurant, Cardamom Hill, Gomez turns those familiar ingredients into dishes that show that the door to cultural exchange can easily swing both ways. Take chicken and waffles. Hers features crispy chicken with the light heat of Kerala cooking and rice-flour waffles that sponge up spicy syrup.
Then there is her tribute to that triumvirate of the Southern table: pork, greens, and cornbread. Gomez uses the deep heat of a garlicky pork vindaloo and accents it with cornbread made sweet and aromatic with cardamom. A chop of green beans cooked in oil flavored with mustard seed approximates collard greens enhanced with a piece of streak o’ lean. The resulting dish, piled high to resemble an open-faced sandwich, dances happily between the American South and the Indian one, and underscores the similarities between cultures.
“Southern food is unpretentious food,” Gomez says. “It’s food from the soul. It’s just delicious food on a plate.”