If Israel is the land of milk and honey, maybe Punjab—in the north of India—is just the land of milk. Butter, milk, cream, buttermilk and curd are mainstays of Punjabi cuisine, so it’s not surprising to find a good deal of milk, cream and butter in the offerings at Taste of Punjab restaurant in Sandy.
As you scan the extensive Taste of Punjab menu, you’ll discover that it’s pan-Indian overall. But those creamy, buttery dishes are the ones—along with a few others like tandoori—that lend credence to the name of the restaurant. And stuffed “naan” and “parantha” breads are dead giveaways; these are rarely found in Indian states other than Punjab.
One thing I like about Taste of Punjab is that, although there are non-Punjabi dishes on the restaurant’s menu, like the lamb “vindaloo,” it doesn’t try to cover every region of India. As the restaurant’s name implies, the owners are from Punjab, and the menu features Punjabi culinary specialties—that’s truth in advertising. To me, that’s also an improvement over restaurants that simply identify themselves as “Indian,” as though it’s possible to make gastronomic head or tails of the entire subcontinent. That’s comparable to putting up a sign saying that a restaurant serves “European” cuisine. Thanks for nothin.’
So I appreciate that Taste of Punjab narrows the culinary scope for its customers somewhat. In fact, even the basmati rice served with many dishes at Taste of Punjab is made with a Punjabi flair, subtly scented with cumin seeds. After all, no one eats plain rice in Punjab unless they’re ill.
Punjab cooking is robust but not especially complicated. Sauces and marinades tend to be simple and straightforward, less complex and layered than you might find in other regions of India, especially the south. For example, Punjab is best known for tandoori cooking, where meats, fish, poultry and breads are cooked in large hearth ovens fueled with charcoal and/or wood. The result is food like the tandoori chicken ($8.95) at Taste of Punjab, chicken legs marinated in yoghurt and subtle spices and then cooked over charcoal in the restaurant’s super-heated tandoor oven. The chicken is tender and mild, but with a delicious charred flavor that even children can handle. A boneless variation at Taste of Punjab is the chicken “tikka” ($9.95). And if you like tandoor-cooked foods you’d probably enjoy the “Mixed Grill” ($13.95), an assortment of tandoori chicken, chicken tikka, lamb kabobs and shrimp, all cooked up in the tandoor oven. It’s a nice platter to share with others, perhaps as an appetizer. And speaking of appetizers, be certain to order a couple of “papadam” ($1.50), the crunchy, thin tandoor-baked lentil wafers seasoned with black pepper and cumin seed. I find them addictive.
Punjabi cuisine is a godsend for vegetarians, and few dishes capture the essence of Punjab cooking better than vegetable-stuffed breads like “saag naan” ($2.95) and “gobi parantha” ($1.95). The latter is whole wheat bread is somewhat the consistency of pita bread, but stuffed with spiced cauliflower (another staple of Punjab) and baked in the tandoor. And saag naan is commonplace in Punjab too: light pastry dough stuffed with cooked spinach and baked in the tandoor. In Punjab, the naan or parantha is often stuffed with parsley, but I’ve rarely found anything other than spinach used in this country’s Indian restaurants.
There are few things more delicious in life than the butter chicken at Taste of Punjab. But it’s not what you think. It’s not chicken bathed in butter. Actually, the butter chicken ($8.95) at Taste of Punjab consists of boneless pieces of tandoor-baked chicken, bathed in a cream sauce with butter, tomato puree and mild spices. But the sauce is orange and looks more like a curry or “masala” sauce than what you probably picture when you think of “butter chicken.” And by the way, the butter chicken is another good way to get kids into Indian cuisine; It’s milder than any barbecued chicken they’ve probably ever had. Other great cream-based sauce dishes at Taste of Punjab include the shrimp coconut “korma” or the similar fish version (each $9.95)—shrimp or boneless chunks of halibut cooked in a velvety sauce made with onion, tomatoes, cashew nuts, spices and coconut milk. It’s creamy, decadent and delicious.
A good way to sample most of the dishes I’ve mentioned and more at Taste of Punjab is to avail yourself of the $5.95 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, served daily. The offerings change frequently but there’s usually tandoori chicken and the aforementioned butter chicken available, sometimes a lamb dish, and often veggie dishes like “aloo gobi” (cauliflower and potatoes with butter and spices) and chick-peas with tomatoes, onions and spices called “channa masala.”
Taste of Punjab is small, with only about 10 tables. But the fuchsia-colored walls are pleasing and the place has a comfortable, modern look that’s quite appealing. Service is, as with most Indian eateries, very “hushed” but friendly. Come to think of it, I’ve never had impolite service in any Indian restaurant; this one is no exception to that rule. I’m not sure if alcohol is imbibed in Punjab, India, but there’s none available at Taste of Punjab. Enjoy a creamy “lassi” drink instead.
TASTE OF PUNJAB 1241 E. 8600 South Sandy 256-350 Open daily for Lunch and dinner