By Maria Manuela ∙ Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Left: Asian Hot Dish with rice noodles, stir-fried fragrant vegetables, and organic roasted tofu, served with organic coconut cream peanut sauce. Right: Grab-and-go refrigerator at Mata G.
Have you ever tasted something so good that it gives you an entirely new appreciation for a dish? My first bite of hummus at Mata G Vegetarian Kitchen, a grab-and-go restaurant in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill, was like that. Smooth and creamy, topped with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika, the blend of tahini and garbanzo beans and a dash of lemon juice was so delightful it made me grateful that co-owner Gurubachan Kaur had suggested I get the larger size. Once I got home, I ate half the container standing at my kitchen counter with a big smile on my face.
Kaur practices Sikhism and is an avid Kundalini yogi and teacher. Ideals from the way Kaur lives her life show up in her kitchen. “We believe that whatever you cook should be with a good energy and vibration,” she tells me as we hang out on the patio outside the restaurant on the corner of Amherst Drive and Silver Avenue. “You have to put that love into your food. We have a very beautiful, peaceful energy in the restaurant. When you have love for cooking, it shows in the food.”
Growing up in a big Lebanese family in Mexico City, Kaur watched her mother and grandmother master the kitchen. “My whole family is into food. My mother and my grandmother were wonderful cooks. My family were meat eaters, so when I became a Sikh and vegetarian in 1972, I started trying to make things my mother and grandmother made, but without the meat. In the beginning, it was hard, but I think it’s in the blood that I cook well.”
She raised her three children on meatless diets and found that she loved cooking for her spiritual leaders and her entire community. Her youngest son encouraged her to take her culinary skills beyond her own kitchen and open a restaurant. He made the logo and came up with the name Mata G. “Mata means mother and G means beloved mother. That’s what my kids called me when they were growing up, so it was the perfect name.” The restaurant opened in November 2018, when Kaur was sixty-seven years old.
Gurubachan Kaur, a.k.a. Mata G.
A good dish starts with fresh ingredients, and Kaur uses only the freshest. She sources from the Sikh community farm in Española and from other local growers, making seasonal dishes with veggies when they are at their best. “In the fall, we will start making recipes with butternut squash, and things like that.” They make specials during the holidays with Thanksgiving and Christmas favorites on the menu.
The restaurant serves food in a grab-and-go style. You walk into the calming, bright space and pick what you want from an array of ready-made items shelved in a refrigerated section to the left of the entrance. It’s convenient, something Kaur thinks is important. “I want to cook for people who work all the time,” she tells me. “And mothers who are working and busy and don’t have time to cook for their kids. It’s really good food, and fast, but healthy.”
Dishes from a plethora of traditions fill the Mata G menu. “It’s a whole mixture of international food because I want people to understand that, in any nationality, you can cook vegetarian food that is healthy, good for you, and tasty,” Kaur says.
The diverse offerings range from complete meals to little sides. The Mexican Hot Dish offers an enchilada casserole with roasted poblano, cilantro rice, and calabacitas. The Indian Hot Dish comes with cauliflower curry, tomato masala, raita, and a twice-baked potato made with onions, garlic, ginger, and cottage cheese. There are spiced olives, which have quite a nice kick, and that luscious hummus, which I will forever crave.
The ready-to-go case includes an assortment of burritos complete with breakfast versions. One is made with golden hash browns and cheese and another with a tofu scramble with tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and olives. Imagine that breakfast burrito you nab after a night of one too many margaritas actually making you feel better, because it’s made with fresh ingredients and a dollop of love.
Mata G’s menu has delicious drinks too. The Hibiscus Cherry Iced Tea has a deep red color like a glass of fine wine. Sweetened with just a little honey, it has a refreshing and tart finish. Fresh lemonade made with honey and mint hits that perfect balance of sweetness and the flavor only fresh mint delivers. The fresh yogurt lassis are created with house-made yogurt from a starter passed down from Kaur’s grandmother.
The cookies are too good to miss. I am really sensitive to sugar, but I have the biggest sweet tooth. So finding sweet treats made with honey and coconut sugar, which metabolizes differently than the regular white refined kind, was an extra bonus. My favorite is the Tahini Nirvana Cookie with chocolate chips and cherries.
Now Mata G products are stocked in supermarkets, health food stores, and cafeterias around the state, including all the La Montañita Co-op locations, Intel, and some hospitals.
For Kaur, cooking for others is a way of spreading happiness and nurturing her community. She tells me her favorite part of owning Mata G is meeting new people who become regular customers and friends. “I love cooking for people and meeting new people who enjoy the food. It’s very fulfilling knowing I am helping people eat healthier. It feels like I am nurturing people.”
116 Amherst SE, 505-266-6374, mata-g.com
Maria Manuela is a freelance writer who lives in Corrales with her three pups, Darla, Hamlet, and Pea. The former arts editor of UNUM Magazine, she writes regularly for New Mexico Magazine and is currently working on a book of magical realism folktales based on New Mexico history.