A woman walks by in a gold and green sari, delicate sandals on her feet and long gold earrings glittering against her silky black hair. She speaks in Hindi with her companion, who is also dressed in a beautifully patterned sari. Indian music plays in the background.
No, I’m not in Mumbai or New Delhi, but having dinner at Taj Mahal, a newly opened restaurant in Usaquén. The lure of Indian food is sure to get me into a restaurant, but the promise of naans baked in a tandoor oven right here in Colombia was irresistible, so I recently visited Taj Mahal to taste them myself.
Tandoor cooking is, in fact, a central theme of Taj Mahal’s menu and kitchen. On the first page of the menu there’s a description of these typical ovens of the subcontinent. One of the foremost tools in an Indian kitchen, a tandoor is a clay oven with an insulating material on the outside, heated from the bottom with charcoal or wood. The result is an ultra-hot oven that cooks with live fire to impart a smoky taste.
One of the chefs, Harsh Bhatia, mentioned that importing the tandoor wasn’t easy, since it involved a long trip from India to the United States and then on to Bogotá. The shiny, new tandoor at Taj Mahal sits in a corner of the upstairs kitchen. Breads are placed in traditional fashion on the sides of the oven, clinging as they cook and then peeled off when ready. Other meats and prepared dishes are placed on skewers and cooked over the live coals.
There are numerous tandoor dishes to explore at Taj Mahal. Murgh malai is a mild chicken breast dish, marinated in cheese, yogurt and cashew paste and finished in the tandoor. Hara bhara kebabs are made with spinach, peas and potatoes. They’re crunchy and slightly blackened from the tandoor, with a creamy cheesy interior and a pleasant spicy touch. The pyaaz kulcha is a soft flatbread filled with caramelized onions and cooked on the walls of the tandoor.
The tender tandoori chicken is first marinated in yogurt and spices. Murgh zafrani tikka is chicken marinated with green cardamom and saffron, also finished in the tandoor for a smoky flavor. The chef highly recommends the classic butter chicken in a spicy tomato sauce.
Though not cooked in the tandoor, a specialty is gosht patiala shahi, slow cooked lamb with onion, ginger and cilantro. Basmati rice and a variety of naan, roti and kulcha are ordered separately. For those that want to go meatless, there are lots of clearly marked vegetarian dishes.
The cocktail list has house specialties like the Taj Mahal, with vodka, Cointreau and an infusion of Indian spices. The brief dessert menu has unusual selections like kesar pista kulfi, ice cream made with pistachio and saffron.
The portions were moderate, but the idea is to order several dishes and share them to try a variety of tastes. Although the waiters didn’t seem that knowledgeable about Indian food, it’s understandable that it takes time to learn about the complexities of Indian cuisine. Keep in mind that on the weekends, the lines to get into the restaurant can reach down the block.
At Taj Mahal the cooking techniques are authentic and the flavors are excellent. Eating food cooked in a tandoor is a unique experience and a spicy way to heat up those cool Bogotá evenings.
Taj Mahal / Calle 119 B No 6A – 34
About this author: Karen left Philadelphia 20 years ago to pursue an expat life. She now lives in Bogotá and writes about her passions which include food and travel. Her work has appeared in Casa Viva Cocina, CNN, Esquire, Société Perrier and publications in the U.S, Europe and Latin America. She blogs at www.FlavorsofBogota.com