Tannura – have you come across this Urdu word in Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry? And more importantly, why are we talking about poetry on a food blog?
You see, to us, poetry and cooking are similar in their process and outcomes. Cooking, in its basic essence, is an art form involved in the making of new creations, ones that did not exist prior to their conception, much like poetry. And like poetry, cooking uses various tools and devices to aid in the process of making food. One such device is the very colloquially named Tandoor, or Tannura in Urdu. The well-known Tandoor is a cylindrical clay or metal oven that is used in the process of cooking and baking. We’ve grown up listening to the zaayka of the Tandoori Naan or the Tandoori Chicken and we’ve all squinted at the Tandoor set up at shaadis and get-togethers, but never fully understood the process that takes place before that sizzling hot beautiful Naan comes onto our plates, or that Tandoori Chicken graces our palate while we laugh our worries away and have a comforting meal with our families.
Today, we want to give you the intehaayi khaas story of how that Tandoor became an ubiquitous part of the Indian food scene.
Traditionally, the history of the Tandoor goes back to the times when the only way you could cook food was to make a hand-tandoor or a Chulha in which wood and dry grass were stuffed. It is this fodder that kept the fire going until food was cooked on the outer mud walls that were heated. This type of Tandoor had been an essential part of re-uniting communities across villages. Famously, Guru Nanak Dev Ji started the rivayat, the ritual of the Sanjha Chulha where people came together to cook food, thus fostering unity and harmony across religions and cultures.
This Chulha was further developed into a cylindrically shaped structure that was entirely made of mud and was filled with burning coal, sulagta hua koyla, in order to generate just the right amount of heat so that everything cooked inside the oven was perfectly baked. The Tandoor is made primarily with clay because heated clay has the capacity to stick things to it. This fabulous lustre helps the naan cook perfectly and nicely and come out extremely soft so that it is ready to melt in your mouth. Alternatively, when chicken is cooked in the Tandoor, the sensuous smoke that comes out of the Tandoor seeps into the chicken and makes it juicy and rustically fragrant at the same time.
Irfan Bhai boasts of the authentic and the old ways of cooking; steeped in tradition, this makes you travel back to the by-lanes of Lucknow in the olden days where the food was majestic and the taste, glorious. Our menu of the Tandoori dishes is an edible story of a Sanjha Chulha that later got converted to a Tandoor, something that you can visibly taste.
That is the thing about food and poetry, it takes you to places that reside in your heart, and sometimes they are simply made of mud and clay!