The Tandoor: A Culinary Tradition that Continues to Sizzle
Image Credit: Unsplash

The tandoor oven is an iconic element of Indian cuisine that has been used for centuries to prepare a wide variety of dishes. This traditional cooking method has become synonymous with Indian cuisine, and the dishes that are cooked using a tandoor are considered to be some of the most flavourful and aromatic in the world. The history of the tandoor dates back to ancient times when it was used by nomadic tribes in Central Asia to bake bread and cook meat. As the technique travelled through the region, it eventually made its way to India, where it was embraced by chefs and home cooks alike. Today, tandoor cooking is an integral part of Indian cuisine, and the dishes that are created using this unique method are beloved all over the world for their distinctive flavour and texture. In this article, we will delve deeper into the history and significance of the tandoor in Indian cuisine, as well as explore some of the most popular dishes that are prepared using this traditional cooking technique. 

A tandoor is a cylindrical clay or metal oven used in cooking and baking in many countries, particularly in South and Central Asia. The tandoor oven is heated with a wood or charcoal fire, and it can reach very high temperatures, which makes it ideal for baking bread and cooking meats, vegetables, and other foods. The tandoor has been used in India and other parts of South Asia for centuries, and it is an important part of the culinary traditions of the region. Tandoori cooking is a unique style of cooking that involves marinating foods in spices and yoghurt, and then cooking them in the tandoor oven, which imparts a distinct flavour and texture to the dishes. 

The History Of Tandoor 

The tandoor is a traditional Indian clay oven that has been an integral part of Indian cuisine for centuries. Its origins date back to the Harappan civilization, which existed in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent from 2600 to 1900 BCE. The tandoor was then known as a masonry oven, made of mud and stone, and was used for baking bread. 

As the centuries passed, the tandoor evolved and became an important tool for cooking meat, fish, and vegetables. In medieval times, the tandoor was used by the Mughal emperors, who introduced Persian and Central Asian cuisine to India. They used the tandoor to cook kebabs, naans, and other delicacies. The tandoor was also used in the preparation of biryanis, which were slow-cooked dishes that originated in Persia. 

The tandoor gained further popularity in the 20th century, with the rise of tandoori cuisine. Tandoori chicken, which is marinated in a spicy yoghurt-based mixture and cooked in a tandoor, is now one of India's most popular dishes. Other tandoori dishes include tandoori fish, lamb chops, and paneer tikka. 

The tandoor's significance to Indian cuisine cannot be overstated. Its unique cooking method, which involves exposing food to high heat and smoking charcoal, imparts a smoky flavour and a charred texture that cannot be achieved with other cooking methods. The tandoor is also incredibly versatile and can be used to cook a wide variety of dishes, from bread and kebabs to biryanis and curries. 

In addition to its culinary significance, the tandoor holds cultural and social significance as well. In many parts of India, the tandoor is the centre of the household and is used to prepare food for family and friends. It is a symbol of hospitality, and guests are often invited to gather around the tandoor and enjoy the food as it is cooked. 

The tandoor has also become a source of livelihood for many people. Tandoor makers, or bhattis, use traditional techniques to build and maintain tandoors. Tandoori chefs, or tandoor-walas, have specialized knowledge and skill in the art of tandoori cooking, and are in high demand in the restaurant industry. 

Popular Dishes That Are Made Using Tandoor

Tandoori Chicken 

Tandoori chicken is a popular dish in Indian cuisine that is marinated in a mixture of yoghurt and spices and then cooked in a tandoor. The chicken is first marinated in a mixture of yoghurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, and other spices for several hours to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavour. The marinade also gives the chicken its distinctive reddish-orange colour. 

Once the chicken is marinated, it is skewered and placed in the tandoor oven, where it is cooked at high temperatures until it is tender and juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. The heat of the tandoor oven gives the chicken a unique smoky flavour and charred texture. Tandoori chicken is often served with a side of mint chutney or raita and is a popular dish for special occasions and celebrations. It is also a common item on the menu of Indian restaurants around the world. 


Naan is a type of Indian flatbread that is popular throughout the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia. It is traditionally made using wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt, and is cooked in a tandoor oven. 

The dough is made by combining the flour, yeast, and salt with water, and is then left to rise for several hours. Once it has risen, the dough is divided into small balls, which are then rolled out into flat, oval-shaped disks. 

The naan is then placed onto the sides of the tandoor oven, where it is cooked until it puffs up and develops a slightly charred exterior. Traditionally, the naan is then brushed with ghee, a type of clarified butter, to give it a rich, buttery flavour. 

Naan can be served plain, or it can be flavoured with a variety of ingredients such as garlic, onion, or herbs. It is commonly served as an accompaniment to a variety of Indian dishes such as curries, kebabs, and tandoori chicken. 

Tandoori Fish 

Tandoori fish is a popular dish in Indian cuisine that is made by marinating fish in a blend of spices and yoghurt and then cooking it in a tandoor oven. The dish originated in the northern part of India, specifically in the region of Punjab, where the tandoor oven is a common cooking method. The type of fish used for tandoori fish can vary, but commonly it is made with meaty fish like salmon or cod. 

To prepare tandoori fish, the fish is first cleaned and marinated for several hours in a mixture of yoghurt and spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, and red chilli powder. The marinade helps to infuse the fish with flavour and keeps it moist during the cooking process. After marinating, the fish is skewered and placed in the tandoor oven, which is heated to a high temperature. The intense heat of the oven gives the fish a smoky flavour and crispy texture on the outside while keeping it moist and tender on the inside. 

Tandoori fish is often served with a side of naan or rice and can be accompanied by a variety of chutneys or sauces. It is a popular dish for special occasions or celebrations, and its unique flavour and cooking method make it a standout dish in Indian cuisine. 

Tandoori Prawns 

Tandoori prawns are a popular Indian dish made by marinating prawns (also known as shrimp) in a mixture of yoghurt, spices, and lemon juice, and then cooking them in a tandoor.  

To prepare tandoori prawns, the prawns are first cleaned and deveined. Then, a marinade is made by mixing yoghurt, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and other spices, depending on the recipe. The prawns are then coated in the marinade and left to marinate for at least 30 minutes, and up to several hours. 

After marinating, the prawns are skewered and placed in a tandoor, which is preheated to a high temperature. The prawns cook quickly in the intense heat of the tandoor, and the result is a dish that is crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. 

Tandoori prawns are often served with naan or rice and are typically garnished with fresh coriander leaves and lemon wedges. They can be served as an appetizer or as a main dish. 

Tandoori Paneer 

Tandoori Paneer is a popular vegetarian dish in Indian cuisine, where cubes of paneer (Indian cottage cheese) are marinated in a mixture of yoghurt, spices, and lemon juice, and then grilled in a tandoor.  

To prepare tandoori paneer, the paneer is first cut into cubes and then coated with a mixture of yoghurt, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, and other spices. This mixture is then left to marinate for a few hours, allowing the flavours to infuse and tenderize the paneer. 

After marinating, the paneer is skewered and placed in a preheated tandoor, where it is cooked until it's slightly charred on the outside and tender on the inside. The high heat of the tandoor gives the paneer a smoky and slightly crispy texture, adding to the overall flavour and appeal of the dish. 

Tandoori paneer is often served as an appetizer or as part of a larger meal. It can be accompanied by various chutneys and dips, such as mint chutney or raita, and is typically garnished with fresh coriander leaves and lemon wedges. The dish is popular among vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike and is widely available in Indian restaurants across the globe. 

Seekh Kabab 

Seekh kabab is a popular Indian and Pakistani dish made from ground meat that is mixed with spices, herbs, and onion, and then shaped onto skewers and cooked over hot coals or in a tandoor. The name "seekh" refers to the skewer that the meat is threaded onto, and "kabab" means grilled or roasted meat. 

To prepare seekh kabab, the ground meat is combined with finely chopped onion, garlic, ginger, coriander leaves, mint leaves, and a mixture of spices such as cumin, coriander, garam masala, red chilli powder, and salt. The meat mixture is then kneaded by hand to ensure the spices are evenly distributed and to create a smooth texture. 

Next, the meat is formed into long, cylindrical shapes around the skewers, which are traditionally made from stainless steel or bamboo. The skewers are then placed over hot coals or in a tandoor and grilled until the meat is cooked through and slightly charred on the outside. 

Seekh kabab is typically served hot, often with a side of mint chutney or tamarind sauce, along with onions, lemon wedges, and naan or roti bread. 

Tandoori Biryani 

Tandoori biryani is a flavourful Indian rice dish that combines the classic tandoori flavours with aromatic and spicy biryani. The dish typically includes marinated tandoori chicken or lamb that is cooked in a tandoor oven and then added to the biryani along with a range of vegetables and spices. 

The tandoori biryani is then cooked in a pot on low heat, allowing the flavours to meld together and the rice to absorb all the delicious juices from the meat and vegetables. Once cooked, the biryani is garnished with fresh cilantro leaves and served hot with raita or chutney on the side. 

Tandoori biryani is a hearty and delicious dish that is enjoyed by many around the world, particularly in India and Pakistan. It is a great option for special occasions or a weekend family meal.