Inside Namkeen, Denver's Newest Indian Street Food Concept
by Lisa Elbert, Tastemaker in Residence
“Most places serving Indian food in Denver seem restricted by what they think diners are familiar with,” said chef Cindhura Reddy. “We're excited to be bringing something personal to the city with Namkeen, and we're holding very little back.” - LISA ELBERT
Chef Cindhura Reddy of Spuntino in Denver has just brought an exciting new concept to the city. On March 12th, Reddy and Elliot Strathmann, her husband and business partner, opened Namkeen, a South Indian street food shop located inside RiNo’s newest food hall, Zeppelin Station.
“'Namkeen' is the Hindi word for salty or savory,” said Reddy, “and it’s also the umbrella term for all of those savory snacks in India that you can buy in market stalls by weight.” So just to clarify, Namkeen is a concept dedicated to savory snacks, and I guess we all have to move to Denver now.
Reddy, whose parents are from Hyderabad, always knew an Indian concept was in her future after her foray into pasta at Spuntino (which, by the way, also means snack in Italian), but it wasn’t until she and Strathmann were approached by the owners of Zeppelin Station that their “one day” idea would become a reality. Zeppelin Station is home to six food stalls—Namkeen being the final piece of the puzzle—all of which are street food-based.
“I think we're bringing something new to Denver [with Namkeen],” said Reddy. “Biju's Little Curry shop deserves its praise for bringing Keralan-inspired food to Denver, and while there is good Indian food to be found, much of it is in the suburbs.” Namkeen is Reddy’s way of introducing the downtown diners of her transplant city to a whole new world of Indian cuisine, and she’s cooking it with soul.
Born in Cleveland, Reddy grew up cooking alongside her Indian-born parents, and these recipes from her childhood, combined with the snacks she encountered during her travels, are the basis of her menu at Namkeen. “We built the menu based on food experiences both from my childhood and from our time traveling in South India as adults,” said Reddy. “We are serving a mix of true family recipes and our versions of favorite dishes we sought out in many forms during our time there. And it’s really fun getting phone photos and recipes from family that are like, ‘a handful of this,’ and trying to translate that into a real kitchen recipe.”
One such dish is the Kathi roll. “They’re eaten all over India and we’ve been surprised they haven’t become available in the U.S., save for a few big cities,” said Reddy. The Kathi rolls at Namkeen are simple in concept but bursting with flavor: house-made whole-wheat roti wrapped around one of her curries. “It’s such a convenient and delicious way to enjoy our recipes.”
And then there’s one of Reddy’s longtime favorite South Indian snacks, Chicken 65. “It’s been very popular so far,” said Reddy. “It’s spicy and super flavorful, and it’s great to see a dish that doesn’t hold back from that real South Indian heat hit it off so well here.”
Namkeen is quickly becoming a haven for salt-craving industry folks to congregate after hours. “We serve food until midnight on weekends, and late-night food isn’t really a thing [in Denver], so it’s awesome that we can provide food for our night owls.”
Through her stall in Zeppelin Station, Reddy is bringing downtown Denver a taste of South India they didn’t even know they needed. “Most places serving Indian food in Denver seem restricted by what they think diners are familiar with,” said Reddy. “We're excited to be bringing something personal to the city with Namkeen, and we're holding very little back.”