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Tandoor Ovens: Ancient Appliances with Modern Appeal
Check out our guide to India’s clay oven, the tandoor, to learn what gives the country’s cuisine its savory sizzle.
From the outside, a tandoor may just look like a big, unglazed clay pot. But inside its tapered mouth, blazing-hot charcoal delivers dry, intense heat via conduction, convection, and radiation, raising interior temperatures as high as 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Food placed inside will develop a crisp outer layer while the interior stays juicy, imparting a toothsome texture common in Northern Indian, Pakistani, and Central Asian cuisines. Chefs can use tandoors to roast skewered, marinated hunks of meat, which absorb a smoky flavor as the juices burn up on the blazing coals below. Alternatively, pastries and raw loaves of naan flatbread can be pressed against the upper walls, then peeled off by hand once baked.
Although the tandoor’s millennia of history make its exact date of origin unclear, the year of its first steps toward global prominence is generally agreed upon: 1947, the year Kundan Lal Gujral, a refugee from Pakistan, opened Delhi’s Moti Mahal restaurant. The restaurant not only introduced many Indians to tandoori cooking—it’s generally credited with inventing tandoori chicken and its even richer relative, butter chicken—it so impressed India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, that he made it a regular stop for visiting dignitaries. President John F. Kennedy and the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev are among the world leaders to have dined at the restaurant, which is still in operation today.