Indian cuisine is known for many different features – its incredible aroma, hearty use of spices, and uniquely complex and flavorful dishes that generally astound anyone who tries it for the first time. One of the oldest and most important features of Indian cuisine, however, comes in the use of a special clay oven called a Tandoor.
The Tandoor’s use dates back more than 3,000 years in regions of India and Pakistan but is still widely used today. The clay forms a dome-like exterior around a single flame; the clay conducts heat better than other materials, resulting in a highly efficient cooking tool that can be used for longer periods than a standard oven.
Traditionally, the Tandoori oven was used for cooking “naan” (old Persian for “bread”) and the people making this special flat bread were and are still known as naanvala (“vala” translating to “person”, so, a naan person).
How does it work?
Now you might think to yourself, why would cooking in a hollowed-out dome be any better or different than a flat oven? Similar to domed pizza ovens, the Tandoor has a unique method of cooking that gives us that familiar crust while keeping the naan chewy and light. By keeping the flame low, the walls of the Tandoor become evenly heated and an experienced Naanvala will be able to know exactly where the hot spots in their oven are to get those iconic crispy and uneven edges.
Similar to pizza dough, naan is formed prior to being placed in the oven because once it gets placed the bread sticks instantly until the cooking is done. If you peeked inside during the cooking process, you’d see the bread on the walls begin to balloon and cook. It’s the Naanvala’s job to keep things from getting too hot and for this they have a unique hook to grab everything inside the oven, moving naan around as needed.
What’s Cooking in Tandoori Ovens?
With temperatures reaching anywhere from 500 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, the Tandoor has been creatively fashioned to grill and steam many different types of foods, beyond the iconic naan bread.
One of India’s most recognizable dishes comes from the Tandoor in the form of Tandoori Chicken. Similar to American BBQ, the meat is marinated and cooked indirectly with high heat and charcoal. As the skewers are positioned vertically in a Tandoor rather than horizontally on a grill, excess fats are slowly cooked off while sealing in the flavor of spices. This results in a smokey flavor and texture, including both burnt ends and some juicy middle pieces, lending to the perfect bite.
But as we know, India has many vegetarians, but to serve them these practices are no different. Marinated mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes all populate a long metal rod that gets dropped into the Tandoor for a few minutes and comes out as a medley of smokey, succulent, and flavorful vegetables.
Tandur’s Tandoori Ovens
Here at Tandur, we pride ourselves on using traditional Tandoori Ovens. From watching our mothers and fathers pull hot naan out of the Tandoor for the family, we honor our heritage and people by serving authentically delicious food to our guests. May you find it स्वादिष्ट (delicious).