Love me tandoor!

I HADN’T been to the Tandoor Indian restaurant above Sunrise Sports Club in the mainly Asian-occupied Harare suburb of Ridgeview for some considerable time.

Opinion by Dusty Miller

During my absence — it was common tittle-tattle around the dorp — the first tranche of very talented chefs to put in an appearance after the old Jaipur left the premises, were swooped on by Zimbabwe Immigration in dawn raids and bundled unceremoniously onto the first available flights back to the sub-Continent.

On arriving recently I heard the bad news that “Pinks”, himself a locally-born Indian master vegetable chef, who brought them here, had died tragically young of liver problems while I’d been away.

I can’t think why I’ve not been eating there all these months. It’s only 10 minutes’ drive from the office …(on a good day: on a bad one it can take 25 minutes of bad-tempered bumper-to-bumper snarl-filled crawling amid suicidal, anti-social, anarchistic drivers!)… and I’m very fond of Indian-type food.

The Wednesday I went started dreary, dull, grey and quite chilly, temperatures having plummeted during almost 24 hours of continual rain, varying between cyclonic, torrential downpours and steady guti. We had 40mm overnight about six kilometres from Tandoor. That’s just perfect weather to put you in the right frame of mind for a good curry!

But it started warming up again soon after I chose a table on the first floor verandah, enjoying a slight breath of fresh air, in by now heavy humidity. Abdim’s storks quartered the cricket pitch comically hunting bugs avariciously as staff half-heartedly rolled the wicket in the centre of a pitch sprouting almost visibly as hot sun warmed a super-saturated outfield.

I didn’t know that hot-and-sour soup was an Indian dish and am not convinced it is; previously, however, I’ve enjoyed Chinese, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese hot-and-sours, so why not Indian?

Whatever, it was very, very (sinus opening) hot palate wise, not noticeably “sour” and full of goodness and flavour: all sorts of al dente julienned fresh vegetables chock-a-block in a meaty clear physically piping hot broth. I’d certainly have it again (US$3).

Ordering Indian food (or Chinese grub for that matter) in Ha-ha-ha-rare — Africa’s fun capital — for one or two can often end up with mountains of left over stuff, because most mere mortals simply cannot eat it all at one sitting and I’m never too happy about warming up either genre of cuisine.

So the answer, certainly with Indian graze, is to plump for pilaos or biriyanis, which are one-plate self-contained meals, the principal ingredients: meat, fish and/or vegetables having been cooked with and served in a piquant sauce in layers of fragrant, fluffy, savoury rice.

I went for a so-called lamb biriyani and no one would have been more surprised than me if the protein element had actually been sliced from some late departed wide-eyed curly-fleeced juvenile ovine, until recently happily munching herb-filled rich, lush grass, while gamboling across pleasant pastures.

It was of course mutton, but not a really old, pensioned off, venerable beast slaughtered five minutes before it would have passed on anyway…and, thankfully, not smelly old goat, which is often attempted to be passed off as mutton or lamb.

There’s nothing wrong with goat (especially kid) or baby camel for that matter if it’s been fed properly, killed properly, the flesh aged properly cooked properly and identified honestly on the menu!
There was quite a lot of the mutton-dressed-as-lamb some on, some off the bone, folded into fluffy basmati rice of that appealing yellowy-orange colouring which is often described on menus as saffron rice. However, given the eye-watering price of saffron, turmeric produces a very similar hue at a thousandth of the cost!

This was a deeply intense and richly rewarding dish, well cooked and nicely presented by the wonderful willowy waitress, Winnie, who’s worked there probably longer than anyone else.

I “got” flavours, hints, suggestions and occasional physical evidence of cinnamon and bay leaves, coriander, of course, pepper, cloves, cardamom, mint, mace and possibly nutmeg. Ghee was probably used in its cooking.

The dish came with a complimentary raita (a cooling dip comprising cucumbers and mint in natural yoghurt: I usually just tip it over the rich rice dish and fold it in) and ordered naan (Indian unleavened bread) which came hot, soft, yielding and buttery.

With these two spicy and, in the case of the soup hot to the palate, dishes I enjoyed a brace of local bitterly cold Golden Pilsener lagers, bravely resisting Winnie’s attempt to sell me a third. Local beers are US$2 each, but someone must have thought Pilsener was imported, because the bill said six-bucks for two. (Reduced on appeal!)

To cool down the mouth drastically I had a magical kulfi. To describe this as Asian ice-cream simply doesn’t do it justice. It’s a complex mélange of milk, cream and condensed milk with herbs, spices and crushed nuts, so deeply frozen that it takes much longer to melt than conventional occidental ice-cream and chillingly cold on tongue and palate. It costs US$4, and I nearly failed to resist the temptation of ordering a second one!

Oddly enough they didn’t have Indian green tea, which I find very thirst-quenching and it’s reputedly therapeutic, so I had something new to me — Masala tea. It was ok, but won’t be going in my shopping trolley. I’ll stick to rooibos!

Tandoor is above the Hindu-centric Sunrise Sports Club in Hurstview Road. For goodness sake don’t mix it up with the nearby Muslim-run Universals Sports Club.

dustym@zimind.co.zw

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