Muddy Tiger Indian Bistro brings South Asian street food to our own backyard.
Flavors of authentic Indian cuisine vastly differ every 100 kilometers in India. But, in Minnesota, it can be hard to find any native Indian cuisine at all within that distance, let alone the cuisine of a specific region in India. When Muddy Tiger Indian Bistro owner Jyotiee Kistner noticed this upon moving to Minnesota, she knew something had to change.
Until last year, Jyotiee was a software designer. She moved to the United States in 2012 for work, eventually meeting her now husband, Andy Kistner. After getting married, the duo visited Jyotiee’s hometown, Pune, located in the Western region of India.
“It was a feast for my husband. He was really surprised with all the food and culture,” Jyotiee says. When they returned to Minnesota, shock settled in. There were no restaurants serving food from the Western region of India, and the couple began feeling a calling to introduce this cuisine to the Midwest.
“In India, each region has their own specialty. It is not stereotypical [Indian-American] food,” Jyotiee says, noting that food styles and dishes differ immensely across India, and you will not find the same items on the menu in Mumbai as you will in New Delhi. “Language and food is so different every 100 kilometers in India,” she says. While some regions serve hot and spicy dishes, others specialize in more sweet and savory meals. In her hometown, Marathi cuisine is the specialty. “My [native] city has a balance of sweet, spicy, tangy [and] sometimes bitter—everything in one dish,” she says. “We wanted to share what Western India is doing, and especially Indian street food.”
Indian street food, or chaat, is essentially quick, accessible and affordable bites. Rather than sitting down, customers will order food from a stand in a larger marketplace and grab food on the go. Rather than fine dining, it’s the food locals eat on a daily basis. “At home, chaat is affordable for any economic level,” Jyotiee says. The people selling the food make everything fresh daily, serving food until they run out. She wanted to take a similar approach.
To introduce Marathi cuisine to Twin Cities residents, the couple decided to open a food tent in 2018 that would make appearances at the Centennial Lakes Farmers Market. Early on, they also did some restaurant pop ups at the Minneapolis Shake Shack, which was run by her restaurant mentors, who taught her everything she needed to know about running a commercial kitchen. Growing in popularity, the duo shifted gears, and, in 2021, opened a food truck. In February 2023, they opened a fast-casual restaurant in Edina.
Incorporating the sweet and spicy flavors from Jyotiee’s hometown into the dishes offered at Muddy Tiger, customers can find a variety of veggie-forward options—though proteins like chicken and lamb are also on the menu. Different textures and flavors flood the palate with each dish, making each menu item truly incomparable to another. “It just balances out that taste of everything in one bite,” she says, noting that there are no artificial flavors or preservatives in any of their dishes.
Most customers don’t know that the spices used are actually flown in from Jyotiee’s hometown about every three months. Her parents prepare the spice mix and send it over in bulk to use in the restaurant. “My dad used to have a catering business. I grew up helping him and learning from him, so all those recipes I grew up learning are from my home. All are family recipes,” Jyotiee says.
Jyotiee often explains to visitors that Muddy Tiger doesn’t have stereotypical Indian items, such as curry and buttered chicken. She says these items are not served in her native city. While most menu items are new to her customers, she says the Tawa Chicken has been a customer favorite and a great way to experience some of the flavors of Marathi cuisine in a more familiar format. Most customers get more adventurous after that.
The name Muddy Tiger was Andy’s brainchild. They were looking for an unusual, catchy name for the business, and when Andy told Jyotiee about his idea, the name struck her heart; she used to work for Save the Tiger Project with WWF-India. “When we are in college, most students get involved with the [Tiger] Project through our education system,” she says. Tigers are the national animal of India, and she liked the idea of having the animal associated with the restaurant.
Throughout her young adulthood, Jyotiee proactively fundraised for Save the Tiger. The more involved she got, the more she fell in love with the animal’s charisma. “Somehow today, I am still fascinated by the tiger,” she says. “[Muddy Tiger] stays with people.”
Not only does the name stick, but the delicious cuisine is unforgettable for many. “All my dishes are really close to [the] original experience. Many people keep telling me, ‘I used to eat this back home,’” Jyotiee says. She explains that this is what makes the late nights and early mornings worth it. “Me and my husband do everything from cooking to mopping the floors. We built the whole restaurant by ourselves. Whatever we have, we are putting in the restaurant,” she says.
Jyotiee’s ultimate goal is to bring India to Minnesota, so people can “feel like they’re home.” Her goal continues to be exceeded as the restaurant continues to grow in popularity.
Sweet ’n’ Spicy
Originating in the western region of India, Marathi cuisine is known for dishing up pleasure with a punch. Marathi dishes use minimal spices and incorporate an abundance of local ingredients, such as coconut and peanuts. Popular items include Sabudana Vada, Pav Bhaji and Tawa Chicken.
Vada Pav, one of Muddy Tiger’s specialties, generates an explosion of soft and crunchy accents all within one bite. Street food in this region is recognized for its complexity of textures and tangy essence.
The restaurant also adds occasional specials to its menu, featuring other regions in India, often in line with festivals and holidays.