Your Home Away from Home

What we all need is a little bit of love, even when we merely go to a restaurant to fill up our stomachs. If this is how you feel, you should definitely try “Tamba,” an Indian restaurant run by chef Daljeet Malik and her husband, Sikander Malik, whose passion for what they are doing is expressed equally in food, decor of their bar and grill and the way they treat customers. You could easily spend hours there savoring simple but flavorful food with variety of sauces and spices. It’s just so comfortable there that you’ll never want to leave, and you’ll never be rushed, either.

The first thing that attracts guests coming to “Tamba” is the restaurant’s appearance. Decorated in copper (as this is what “tamba” means, and as it is believed, this metal has healing powers), the place has a modern look and is consistent even in details. For instance, in addition to copper lamps on the ceiling, there are copper mini-vases hanging above the bar, copper plates on the walls and even silverware has copper handles. The preciseness of the decor shows us right away how much thought was put into making the space look like it does.

Open since January 2010, “Tamba” is the successor of “Malika,” a restaurant the Maliks used to have on 43 street between 2 ave and 3 ave, which they gave up when the rent went too high. However, instead of being the new “Malika,” “Tamba,” located on Lexington ave between 27 and 28 streets, has its own ideas and several totally new items on the menu.

booth by the window with a beautiful portrait

As far as the menu is concerned, it represents the mixture of Northern and Southern Indian cuisines. Precise with her recipes, chef Malik keeps her dishes as healthy as possible, with little oil and salt (or no salt at all upon request), and you can have your food mild, medium or spicy depending on your taste. And if you are a vegetarian or vegan, there will also be no problem to find an appetizing dish that you will enjoy.

Just before you start, there is a warning for you: the description of food on the menu is extremely modest. Therefore, don’t hesitate to ask your server for recommendations. With the variety of flavors that are hard to be put into words, there are items that will strike you once you bite into them and leave you indifferent if you just read the information about them.

Begin your meal with the most popular appetizer, Chicken 65, “crisped and sauteed with curry leaves and spicy sauce,” as it says in writing. In reality, the flavors of the dish come at you in different layers. It’s sweet at first, and only then spicy, with the tanginess coming from mustard seed and other spices. If you are a seafood lover, you can also taste Shrimp 65, another great variation of the dish.

For a vegetarian appetizer, you should definitely go for Lasani Gobhi, “cauliflower sauteed with garlic and tangy tomato sauce.” In a nutshell, the dish reminds us of spicy buffalo chicken wings, but with cauliflower instead of meat. Crispy and yummy, this starter will tease your taste buds and prepare your stomach for the main dish.

To continue the meal in vegetarian spirit, have a Dal Tadka, yellow lentils cooked until they are perfectly creamy and soft. It may be a good idea to have the lentils over plain white rice, as they are moist and milky, even though there is no trace of dairy there, and they will take away the dryness of the rice, which is, in its turn, a good base for the fluffiness of Dal Tadka.

Another good dish is Aloo Gobi, potato and cauliflower with onions and tomatoes. What sounds simple is again pretty flavorful and spicy, and it gives a great contrast to non-pungent lentils. With frequent water refills an attentive waiter will spoil you with, be sure that there won’t be much left on your plate once you taste it.

If you are a passionate carnivore, however, you shouldn’t miss Murg Methi, boneless chicken cooked with fenugreek leaves.  Dressed in appetizing sauce, the meat is moist and tender, and all you can say about the dish is, “It’s incredible.” This dish is so tangy that you should probably have it with a side order of vegetables in order not to rob it of its intense flavors.

neat and perfectly set up dining room

In addition to these amazing specialties, there are also traditional tandooris, Indian breads cooked in Tandoor, samosas, biryanis and seafood specialties, so you have a lot to choose from. And if you get a chance to have a conversation with chef Malik, she will make this variety of food sound so easy to make. Speaking of Aloo Gobi, for instance, she says, “Boil potato and cauliflower, then throw in some onions and tomatoes and saute them all together.”

Hearing the chef talking about cooking, anyone can quickly become inspired and willing to learn how to cook these “simple” Indian dishes. Answering a lot of requests from female customers, Mrs. Malik decided to teach two-hour culinary classes on Saturday and Sunday afternoons that will start soon. Passionate about preparing food, chef explains her inspiration in a humble and unboastful way, as she says, “Well, many girls told me they wanted to cook like me and asked me to teach them, so I thought, it wouldn’t be hard for me and it wouldn’t take away a lot of my time to take five of six girls and show them how to do what I do.”

Amazing as it is, this shows that the Maliks treat their customers not only as friends, but more like their family members. Even cooking for her clientele chef Malik perceives as feeding a large family choosing fresh ingredients and healthier, less fattening choices. Therefore, when they say “come again” at “Tamba,” be sure that they really mean it in the glory of love for their business compared to a feeling of affection for a child.

And as a saying by an unknown author states, “It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home.” Accordingly, when you eat at “Tamba,” you feel that it’s not only the food you will come back here for, but for the heart, for the warm and welcoming atmosphere of your new home away from home.

Ekaterina Lalo

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