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Discover Great Tamil Cuisine At Montreal's Nama Restaurant
When Jeya Sivans described her journey to owning Nama, a cozy new restaurant in Montréal's Plateau, she was humble. "I am not a chef," she demurred. Indeed, she grew up in India and London with a foodie father and a mother who enthusiastically prepared Sri Lankan food for their family of seven; there wasn't any need for her to cook. Sivans recalled her sister's wedding reception, at which her family cooked a sit-down meal for 300 people. Peeling onions was "the max I would have done" at the time, she said.
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But things changed for the former corporate consultant — specifically her relationship to the food and hospitality culture of her Sri Lankan heritage.

In 2014, Sivans started Hungry Dabba, a food pop-up and ready-made food company in London. Wanting to expand her knowledge of the cuisine, she traveled around the small island nation of Sri Lanka for three months in 2016 and 2017. Though she speaks Tamil, it was her first trip to the country her parents had called home before civil war caused them to flee.

Sivans said her trip, though part "soul sojourn," was focused on researching food and spices. She spoke with Sri Lankan chefs to learn about ingredients and techniques, studied at a spice research center in central Sri Lanka, and met local farmers and spice growers.

In June 2018, Sivans, 32, moved to Montréal and married a Canadian with whom she'd been having a long-distance relationship. A mere month later, she opened Nama, keeping the interior basically as it came, with copper-colored Victorian crown moldings and walls painted with a pop-art palette.

"Everything I've learned from my family, my trip, my research — everything put together is what is on Nama's menu," she said.

That curated, tidy menu has five appetizers, six curries, kottu roti and a handful of critically important sides. Equally solid is the creative cocktail menu, which is where my friend and I began on a busy late-autumn Friday evening.

The Jaffna Fever ($10) was made from pulpy mango juice, whiskey, rum, lime, fresh-pressed ginger and sparkling water. Served with fresh mint and a sprig of rosemary, the cocktail perfectly balanced sweet juice and spicy ginger. My friend's Trincot's Sunset ($10) was sweeter, with guava and lime juices, Soho lychee liqueur, white rum and grenadine. Chia seeds gave the cocktail a slippery, healthful element, useful for anyone who needs to justify drinking liquor.

Our appetizer came out quickly. The katharikai ($8) consisted of three tiny eggplants stuffed with almond paste and green chiles and then roasted. They were served with coconut milk and a schmear of smoky but light hummus. It was a solid start to the meal, though the mains and sides proved more memorable.

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