It had already become a tradition when I lived in London in the late seventies.
“Fancy some Indian after the pub closes?” “Pick up some Indian on the way home, please, love.” “Why don’t I just run out and get some Indian; Spurs are on Match of the Day.”
It was one of those adjectives that worked without a noun. Just Indian. That’s all you needed to say.
Where there was a pub on a corner there was often an Indian a few doors down. They were usually run by Bangladeshi immigrants who were brilliant at adding little nuances to traditional Indian and Pakistani dishes to satisfy the rather bland British palate. The food was rarely eaten in, seldom delivered, almost always taken out.
In North America, dining on Indian cuisine had always been a little different. At lunch, there was almost always a buffet. It was almost always all you can eat. And the price was almost always something that ended with two nines.
Dinner was a little different again. An Indian dinner was almost always delivered. You reached into the top drawer of the coffee table, pulled out the sheet of colored paper with the elephant in its logo, picked up the phone, put some Ravi Shankar on the HiFi and 45 minutes later, the doorbell rang.
There were a lot of choices on those Toronto menus but the one I missed most after moving back to Canada from Britain was chicken tikka masala. I’d see chicken tikka but never chicken tikka masala, never that scrumptious orange gravy.
There’s a new chef delivering Indian cuisine in San Miguel de Allende. And he’s got chicken tikka masala on his menu and, though the sauce isn’t as bright an orange as I remember, it’s about as good, maybe better, than any chicken tikka masala I’ve ever tasted.
The chef’s name is Nasim Insari. He’s one of those guys that bald guys (like me) hate. Nasim Insari looks better because he’s bald. Nasim looks like he could have stolen a few parts from Yul Brynner.
Chef Nasim was born in Lahore, Pakistan and became fascinated with his country’s food traditions when he was a child.
“It all started with my mother. I started helping her in the kitchen at an early age. Back in those days it was not common for Pakistani men to participate in the kitchen activities. But I did it anyway.”
Nasim Insari has more formal education in the food industry than any chef I know. After finishing school in Pakistan, he studied hotel and restaurant management in Switzerland and followed that with an MBA in hospitality at George Washington University.
Nasim managed hotels in London, Virginia and Washington but then did a total career turnaround and went into the IT industry. Now, however, I think he’s back where he belongs.
“I absolutely loved my career but now I am back to my roots, doing what I love. Cooking!”
Nasim Insari’s business is called Shahana Taj. On Saturdays and Sundays, he opens his Queretaro home as a restaurant. On Fridays, he delivers his Pakistani, Indian and Afghani specialties to San Miguel de Allende.
I’ve had Shahana Taj’s food delivered twice so far. I’m planning to have it delivered often from now on.
An Indian meal should always start with samosas and you’ll find them at the top of Shahana Taj’s online menu.
These crispy, flaky triangles can contain a lot of different fillings. Nasim Insari’s are vegetarian and stuffed with potatoes, onions and greens. They come frozen and can be crisped in the oven or, even better, in some sizzling oil on the stovetop.
An even better starter are the aloo tikkis. Northern India and Pakistan’s traditional potato croquettes include peas and spices such as cumin, coriander and chile. Chef Nasim makes the recipe his own by adding tuna. A couple of minutes on each side in a frypan, after you get them home and thawed, gives them a tasty tan.
There are currently 15 mains on Shahana Taj’s online offering, five chicken, three beef and seven vegetarian. Like I said, my favorite, at least so far, is the chicken tikka masala.
Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, bangers and mash, fish and chips…some Brits have claimed that chicken tikka masala has just as much right to be their country’s national dish. A yogourt and spice marinade does some magical things to both the taste and texture of the chicken. There are no firm and fast rules for the sauce. Nasim Insari told me “The secret to Tikka Masala is to slow cook with all the natural and fresh ingredients, such as cardamom, cumin, garam masala, ginger, garlic, organic cream to name few … and with lots of love.”
For his keema sabzi, Chef Nasim takes the tradititional minced beef, vegetables and spices and stir fries them with blistered tomatoes to add a whole new depth of flavor.
“I want to add more to the menu. I’m ready with the lamb. Plus there’ll be seafood…fish and shrimp.”
You’ll find Shahana Taj’s delivery menu at http://shahanataj.com/food-delivery-for-san-miguel-de-allende.html. It’s a little more complicated than ordering a pizza. But some things in life, like chicken tikka masala, are worth a few complications.
You place your order on the website by 2:00 pm on Thursday and your order is delivered to San Miguel the next day at 1:00 pm, at Fiamma, aka Marco’s, on Salida a Celaya.
Plus there’s one more way you can enjoy Nasim Insari’s culinary talents. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Chef Nasim is available for private functions. Last week, he catered for our embroidery circle, The Gentlemen Who Lunch, with chicken tikka marsala of course, and the reviews were rave.
You will find Shanana Taj and a lot more about them and Nasim Insari at shahanataj.com.