Photo by Leslie Kelly
Catejan's cooking rocks at Saffron Spice in Pike Place Market.
What's that? A pretty bold claim, especially with all the curry


Cajetan Mendonz Makes the Best Damn Indian Food in Seattle

Photo by Leslie Kelly
Catejan's cooking rocks at Saffron Spice in Pike Place Market.
What's that? A pretty bold claim, especially with all the curry houses around the Puget Sound. But Cajetan Mendonz does Southern-style Indian at Saffron Spice, his tiny stall at Pike Place Market. It's light, fresh-tasting and mind-blowingly cheap. A combo plate is under $8. The tourists are mostly gone. The Market is relatively peaceful. Go check out Cajetan's chow. He's sandwiched between Read All About It and The Daily Dozen, across from DeLaurenti.

SW: Where were you born?

Catejan: I was born in Goa, a small state in Southwest India. It was a former Portuguese colony, so a lot of the food is influenced by Portuguese.

SW: Who taught you to cook?

Catejan: My mother had a restaurant, so I grew up working with her all the time.

SW: Is she still cooking?

Cajetan: Yes, she still has the restaurant. It's called Jonita. That's her name.

SW: Did you enjoy cooking when you were a kid or was it a chore?

Cajetan: Oh yes. When I was growing up, I just did little jobs like peeling garlic. It's not a big place, but it's good enough to get by.

SW: How many dishes were on the menu?

Cajetan: Maybe 15.

SW: Why does every Indian restaurant in this country seem to have the same menu?

Cajetan: Most of the immigrants who came to this country were from the North. It happened in 1986 because of the assassination of the prime minister, Indira Gandi, and the government was thrown out, so a lot of people migrated.

SW: So, what are the main differences between Northern and Southern Indian food?

Cajetan: In the South, we are close to the sea, so a lot of the dishes are shellfish. We use a lot of coconut and we don't grow basmati rice. We have breadfruit and green beans. We use radishes and different kinds of greens. Every family grows their own rice, long grain rice. We grow it, bring it home and wash it and dry it in the sun and then crack it open. It's not like polishing, it's more like brown rice.

SW: When did you come to Seattle?

Cajetan: I came to Seattle in 2005. I had been living in New York City, in Queens. I like New York, but I wanted to try something else. I was cooking in New York. I cooked a bunch of restaurants. I cooked at an Italian restaurant and a German restaurant and an Indian restaurant. I had two jobs all the time. It was easy to get a job. I came here because a friend was opening a restaurant. It was an Italian deli in Fremont. It was there for two years. It was right by the Lenin statue. We did soup, sandwiches and gelato. It just didn't work.

SW: How long have you been at the Market?

Cajetan: I've been at the Market since January. I really like it here. I like the community. It's nice.

SW: What's the challenge with having a walk-up restaurant stall?

Cajetan: It's tough because a lot of people like to sit down and enjoy their food. They don't want to be walking around. So, I thought maybe I should do some wraps. That worked out well. I put the dishes in a chapati. A lot of people like that they can walk around and eat it.

Check back for part two when Cajetan talks about his favorite cooking tools and shares some secrets on how to grind your own curry powder.

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