In London, there's an Indian restaurant called Humaira Tandoori that serves a buffet dinner on Saturdays for £5.99 (about $10). Whenever anyone goes to London on holiday, I recommend Humaira and I only wish I had gone to eat there more. We'd gotten big groups together there before for Saturday night dinners, particularly one memorable time when a big group of us already occupied one large table right in the middle of the small dining room and another group of friends came later and had to wait for the table. Good stuff, worth the wait!
So, to celebrate our graduation, several of us decided to relive those dinners and have a meal at Punjabi Tadka up on the northern edge of Hell's Kitchen. We had heard great reviews of the place, which was truthfully just a small dingy restaurant with plastic cups and Styrofoam plates. Somehow our cheerful spirit and the magic of Indian food made up for the ambiance.
Punjabi Tadka has a dinner "buffet" special that's $8 for a plate of rice and a piece of naan as big as your head. To top them, you get three choices of saucy sides, including butter chicken, chickpea curry, eggplant curry, egg curry, and daal (lentils). I had a small plate of rice, an enormous and delicious naan, and butter chicken, eggplant, and daal. As an added bonus, they gave us plates of tandoori chicken, bright red from spices and cooked until tender and juicy from the tandoori. (Side note: Alton Brown has an episode about tandoori cooking and I am now convinced that I can make my own tandoor oven out of an enormous terra cotta pot. I'll keep you posted...)
There's something that I find so comforting about Indian food, even though it's not the typical comfort food we all think of. The flavors are so powerful and awakening, for lack of better word: my repertoire of flavors were definitely bland before I met Indian food. To eat this kind of meal, I take a small scoop of rice and dump it right in the saucy sides, taking turns to sample each one. Then, I'd re-scoop the rice, now swimming in with butter chicken or daal, and then eat the whole spoonful like a little make-it-yourself rice stew.
For the naan, I sometimes use it to clean my plate by wiping up sauce, but often if the naan is good, I'll just eat it plain. I love a good crusty chewy bread that you get at an Italian or French restaurant, but naan is up there in my favorite kinds of bread of all time - if you make it right. To me, the right naan has a flavor on its own that is unique from other types of breads and even flatbreads. I can definitely eat entire pieces of naan plain, but the sauces certainly spice up the party.
This fall, my family is planning to visit London. To my dismay, my mom hates Indian food, my dad will eat most cuisines but I think secretly prefers Chinese food, and my sister is...well, I'll leave it up to her to pass judgment on Indian food after a while in the UK. Anyway, I really hope we will be there on a Saturday night, during which I will absolutely drag my entire family back to Humaira.