Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Sunday, February 20, 2011

See naan being baked in a coal burning tandoori oven, just behind City Hall

Indian Biriyani House at 181 Dundas Street West between University and Bay looks a bit dingy from the outside, but it's worth checking out. This fast food Indian/Pakistani place has an old-style tandoori oven right behind the counter. If you order some naan you can see them baking it right before your eyes.

A tandoori oven is a cylindrical clay oven. According to the owner Ohidur Zaman, this is one of only a handful of tandoori ovens heated with coals and not gas in the city. When someone orders naan, Ohidur takes a ball of dough, stretches it out and sticks it directly on the interior wall of the oven. After a couple of minutes, he pierces it with a metal stick and pulls it out of the oven.

Here's the naan stuck to the side of the oven above the glowing coals.
The finished product: a wonderful, super fresh naan bread.
And as for the rest of the food, the meals are quite good for a fast-food, steam-tray type operation. The goat curry was intensely flavourful and the chicken korma was nicely spiced.

With the signs on the storefront saying the food was Indian-Pakistani and halal, I assumed the owners would be from Pakistan, but it turned out not to be the case. Ohidur and his family are actually from Bangladesh, but they serve Indian food because of its broader appeal.

On their website, the restaurant describes its food as "Indian Mughalai," meaning it comes from the Punjab region shared between India and Pakistan. Turns out many Indian restaurants are actually run by Bangladeshis. This New York Times article says that 95% of Indian restaurants in New York City are actually owned by Bangladeshis.

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