A Quick History Of The Tandoor Style Of Cooking Around The World
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Tandoori cooking is extremely popular throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond. Predominantly used to cook meat and bread, this type of cooking originated in the Indus Valley civilization some 5000 years ago. Tandoors have been found in the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations as well. A tandoor is a clay urn-shaped oven that can be partially or completely underground. The primary heat source is a charcoal or wood fire that cooks food using direct heat and smoke. These ovens are kept lit for extended periods of time, and internal temperatures can go as high as 480 °C. Traditional tandoors are generally found in restaurant kitchens, while tandoors for home use are made of metal.

In Punjab, especially, the Tandoor style of cooking was encouraged by Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh religion, to eliminate caste differences. The presence of community tandoors can trace their origins to his insistence on allowing women from different levels of society to interact while cooking.

The following are names of tandoor in various languages and countries:

    Dari Persian (Iran): Tandur or Tanur

    Arabic (all Arabic-speaking countries): tannur

    Armenian (Armenia)- Tonir

    Azerbaijani (Azerbaijan) - Tendir

    Hebrew (Israel)- Tanúr 

    Kyrgyz (Kyrgyzstan)-Tandyr 

    Kazakh (Kazakhstan)- Tandyr 

    Kurdish (Kurdistan)- Tenûr

    Turkish (Turkey)- Tandir

    Uzbek (Uzbekistan)- Tandir

    Turkmen (Turkmenistan)- Tamdyr

    Tajik (Tajikistan)- Tanur 

    Somali (Somalia)- Tinaar

    Luganda (Uganda)- Ttanuulu

A brand-new tandoor oven is first conditioned by gradually heating it. Thus, this is a very important step, as doing this correctly can ensure the oven’s longevity and consistency. Tandoors are usually in a fixed place or position in a restaurant or home, as they’re heavy and need a lot of space.

Let us look into the tandoor types from different countries:

    Punjabi tandoor: This type of tandoor, which originated in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, is bell-shaped and made of clay. Fired with either wood or clay, some of these ovens were actually communal. Communal tandoors were a common sight before 1947. However, some communal tandoors may still be found in Punjab today.

    Armenian tonir: Before Armenia embraced Christianity, its residents, who followed a pagan culture, revered their sun god. These people designed their version of the tandoor to resemble and honour their sun god. Armenian flatbread called lavash is made in a tandoor. Some other Armenian dishes made in a tandoor are khorovats, harissa, ghapama, gata, and korvu.

    Azerbaijani tandir: This is another type of tandoor in which traditional Azeri bread, which is also called tandir, is made. This type of cooking ensures fast cooking for the bread. In 2015, the world’s largest tandoor was built in the southern Azeri city of Astara.

    Turkmen tamdyr: A tamdyr is a traditional clay I’ve used in Turkmenistan. Most rural Turkmen families have one of these in their homes. In this oven, a traditional white bread called çörek is made. Making this bread in this type of oven is an ancient tradition.

    Georgian torne: Also known as tone, this type of oven is used to bake a traditional and ancient irregular-shaped bread called shotis puri.

    Somali tinaar: In Somalia, muufo, a type of cornbread, is made in a tinaar, which is a Somali iteration of the tandoor.

Some very famous foods made in a tandoor oven are chicken tikka, chicken tikka masala, tangdi kabab, and tandoori chicken. Most of these items are dry, with the exception of chicken tikka masala, which has some gravy in it. Most of these dishes originated in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. Most of the marinades used to impart flavour to these dishes include spices and yogurt. Tandoori dishes are best eaten when hot, as the texture of the dish might be lost with the loss of temperature.

Tandoori cooking is usually considered healthy as the heat eliminates the necessity for excess use of butter, ghee, or any edible oils. Meat cooked in a tandoor oven is considered one of the juiciest foods anywhere, as the smoke in the oven helps lock in the flavour and tenderness of the meat. Most tandoors these days are above the ground. Partially underground and wood-fired tandoors are mostly found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India today, as most tandoors in other parts of the world are gas-fired.

For those of us who want to cook tandoori food at home or in a modern restaurant, there are modern options that are not made of clay but of metal. The following are the types of modern tandoors available today based on the fuel source:

1.    Charcoal tandoors: These tandoors burn charcoal to produce heat and impart the most authentic smoky tandoor flavour to food. However, there is one major downside to this type of tandoor. Its emissions are quite high compared to the other types of tandoors, as charcoal is being burned directly for heat.

2.    Propane tandoors: These are ideal for beginners as they can help them control temperatures better. Effective temperature control is a very important aspect of tandoori cooking.

3.    Natural gas tandoors: These tandoors ensure a steady fuel supply to the oven as they are directly connected to the home’s gas supply. Being cheaper and cleaner than both propane and charcoal, this type of tandoor is most preferred in the restaurant industry.

Following are the types of tandoors based on their shape and physical structure:

1.    Square tandoor: These are the most common tandoors used in restaurants, and they are usually charcoal fired. Charcoal always burns hotter and longer, thereby making it an ideal choice for restaurant chefs. However, there are a few square tandoors that are gas-fired as well. This type of tandoor is made of stainless steel and is shaped into a box, inside of which is a clay oven. This tandoor is thermally insulated to retain heat.

2.    Clay tandoors: These are made of clay and built by hand. The clay used to make these tandoors is mixed with certain additives like hay and sheep or goat hair. These tandoors are for purists, for whom nothing but the real thing can suffice. Temperatures in these ovens can reach 1000 °C.

3.    Drum tandoor: This tandoor is wheeled and hence portable, making it ideal for catering services and outdoor baking. The structure of such ovens is very simple, with a clay pot fitted with a steel drum on the outside for reinforcement. The clay pot inside the steel drum is insulated with glass wool, ceramic powders, and rock salts to enable the tandoor to burn hotter and longer. There is also a hole provided at the bottom of the drum to remove ashes.

Humans have always been inventive in their cooking methods in order to adapt to their surroundings. Tandoor is one such example. Who would have thought that a clay oven thousands of years old would continue to serve our culinary needs through antiquity and into the modern age?