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The ancient method of tandoori baking and cooking can be traced back to India’s nomadic tribes, where ovens or pits were dug into the ground to cook food. The tandoor is also affectionately known as a sanjha choolha, which means “a common cooking place, a community oven.”

In India, as the sun set and temperatures cooled down, women would gather at the village’s communal tandoor ovens to bake bread, cook and socialize.

Metro residents, you are in luck, as you don’t need to venture to a faraway local village tandoor to sample some of the best cooking.

KhaZana Indian Grill, 4900 N. May Ave., is tandoori heaven.

“We mix our own tandoori spices and masala blend, which includes black pepper, cinnamon, bay leaf, cloves, cumin and other spices,” said owner Shaji Varghese.

Order its delicious version of tandoor-grilled chicken covered with the venue’s signature tandoori spice blend added to yogurt for a traditional chicken marinade.

Say yes to the mango lassi. It is smooth and cooling, the perfect foil for the spicy chicken. For dessert, you must try the gulab jamun, a sweet dumpling drizzled with sugar syrup and a kiss of cardamom.

The Tandoor Restaurant and Indian Grocery Store, 1901 E. Reno Ave., is a hidden treasure. This restaurant offers not only a succulent chicken tikka (tikka means a piece of meat on a skewer) but also a taste of what grocery shopping in India might be like.

“We use chili powder, coriander and nutmeg in our chicken tikka,” said staff member Sam Bhurdel.

Its chicken tikka is cooked in its gas tandoor and served with cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. You must sample its airy paratha, an Indian griddle bread with ghee (clarified butter).

While
you wait for your food, wander through the grocery store. It has
everything Indian, including an entire aisle of spices and herbs.

“Tandoori
chicken and the tandoor originated in the western part of the Punjab
region in India,” said Veeral Mehta, owner of Gopuram Taste of India,
4559 NW 23rd St.

Order the cooked-to-perfection seekh kebab, minced lamb on skewers that is baked in the tandoor. Also try the juicy tandoori shrimp flavored with saffron.

While you wait for your order, settle back with a cup of hot spiced chai tea and an order of roti or naan bread.

“Roti is an unleavened version of the naan bread,” Mehta said. “The basic difference is the flour; the roti is made with whole wheat flour while the naan is made from fine, all-purpose flour and also has a rising agent,”added Mehta, completing my Indian culinary history lesson.

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Angela Botzer

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