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Medley of spices: Restaurant specializes in Indian flavors

Sahib’s owner, Vivek Vatrana, shows off one of the restaurant’s  speciality dishes, chicken masala, also pictured above.
Sahib’s owner, Vivek Vatrana, shows off one of the restaurant’s
speciality dishes, chicken masala, also pictured above.

By LISA WHALEY

Executive Editor

[email protected]

Indian fare has moved one step closer to Jonesborough.

Though perhaps not a perfect replica of the region that brought us everything from Ghandi and Sanskrit to Bollywood, Sahib – a long-established restaurant now newly relocated to the outskirts of west Johnson City -– at least promises to share its unique flavors.

“We make our own blends,” promises Vivek Vatrana, owner of Johnson City’s only Indian restaurant, located at 1803 W. Market St.

With such succulent offerings as tikka masala, curry and tandoori chicken, Vatrana remains dedicated to serving up his homeland legacy on a plate for all diners who wish to try it.

He says it’s a dedication long in the making.

“When I came to the U.S. I was 16,” said Vatrana, who remembers having  just $50 in his pocket. He went to work  for an uncle at his restaurant  in Sommerset, N.J., starting out as a busboy.

But the seed had been planted, and Vatrana soon realized that the running of a restaurant – and the feeding and welcoming of guests – was in his blood.

Chef Stave Nath stirs a special spinach dish for customers. Sahib is open 7 days a week, with both lunch and dinner offerings.
Chef Stave Nath stirs a special spinach dish for customers. Sahib is open 7 days a week, with both lunch and dinner offerings.

 

“I love it,” he said. “I am a people person.” Owning his own restaurant became Vantrana’s dream.

Years later, he had the opportunity to come to Northeast Tennessee – as well as the chance to fulfill that dream.

He opened his own Indian restaurant in what was at that time the Days Inn in Johnson City, and had high hopes for the future.

“There were no Indian restaurants in Johnson City,” he explained.

And from the moment Sahib opened, “It was crazy. We were really busy,” Vatrana said with a broad smile.

Customers clamored for the fresh vegetables, tender meats and new combination of spices.

But while Vatrana loves sharing the foods of his home country with the never-ending stream of guests coming into his restaurant, he also recognized that American palates might not be prepared for the Indian heat.

With the help of such chefs as Stave Nath, “I keep it mild,” Vivec said. “I use a lot of yogurt and butter. This is like having a 2 out of 10 in spices.”

Still, guests can ask for a 10 if they like, and Vatrana is happy to oblige.

In their new location, old friends and longtime customers of Sahib continue to order their favorite dishes, while new guests repeatedly step curiously through the door, only to return again.

It all comes down to the appeal of the dishes, like local favorite chicken masala, and there is nothing unusual in that, according to Vatrana.

“Masala means a blend of spices,” he said, encouraging diners to give it a try. “It’s not spicy. It’s just flavorful.”