A Passage to India - Restaurante Taj Mahal, the best in the country
As a small child I appeared as a beggar in a play called The Hungry Ones, by Indian author Asif Currimbhoy at New York's Café La MaMa. They painted my upper half dark brown and I wore a dhoti. One night, it fell off, exposing my torn underwear and white legs.
Many years later, I was living in the East Village in a fifth floor walk-up bathtub-in-the-kitchen studio, on what was known as Curry Row. It was above an Indian restaurant, which isn’t a coincidence as virtually all the storefronts on the block were Indian restaurants. I swore, when I moved in, that I would try every single one while I was there – the average bill in these places was $5, so this wasn’t a preposterous idea. I only got about halfway through when I started to suspect that there was really just one big kitchen that produced all the food; it all tasted the same. It always smelled like curry inside and out (as did I, my friends reported), which was very nice, I thought, until I realized that the cockroaches felt the same way. But I still loved Indian food. I journeyed to Rajasthan, eating my way to the border of Pakistan. And now, when I return to New York, I visit my favorite venue for Haute Indian, recommended to me by author Gita Mehta, Devi. It’s not on Sixth Street. And a dinner there costs way more than $5.
So when I moved to Mexico I really missed what had become for me comfort food. Here, in El Day Effay, the cooking of the Continent is little known and not well represented. Its Mexi-spañol name ‘comida hindú’ is a misnomer if ever there was one; not all Indians are ‘Hindus’. It is so called to avoid the possibly derogatory word “Indio”. Despite certain similarities between Mexican and Indian cooking i.e. salsas, breads and moles : salsas, breads and curries - our sophisticated capital has only been host to a couple of Indian/Pakistani places not worth shelling out the mega pesos they charge. So I almost flipped my turban when one of my detectives told me about a good new place called Taj Mahal right here in the Condesa. I Eco-bicied right over. It is good indeed. The dream realized of two brothers from Bangladesh, Azad and Atik Hosain, who have been in Mexico for several years importing clothing, is not technically Indian at all, but Bangladeshi. Their cooking is similar to that of the Bengal region to which it once belonged. While most dishes offered here are generic Indian-national, a few byrianis, or rice platters and several curries are featured which are typically Bangladeshi. “My friends and clients pleaded with me to open a restaurant”, Azad explains over a cup of spicy chai. “The hardest part was finding the ingredients…and the chef”.
Located on a quiet tree-lined street just past Mazatlan, the simple, pleasant space features all the Amer-Indo décor requirements: ‘exotic’ chachkas, a big Elephant embroidery, hanging batiks and a TV providing lively Bollywood dance numbers. A few tables are set outdoors, which in good weather is a tranquil alternative. The familiar menu brings me right back to, well, maybe not exactly Connaught Circle, but First Avenue. Start with some samosas, golden and crispy outside, savory within: Indian umami. Also memorable are onion bhaji (which means botana). Chicken tikka tandoori is slices of tender, fragrant baked breast lightly dressed with oil and vinegar to bring out the flavor. A tikka masala is creamy, piquant and complex. Jalfrezi, a Bengal/Bangladeshi specialty, is a curry in which meat (or in our case shrimp) is marinated then fried with chilies and tempered with a bit of cream.It is tangy and just fiery enough - the lovely brick-red sauce concealing a payload of tender shrimp . From Saag (spinach) toShazlek (lamb marinated in yogurt and grilled) careful spicing is in order. There are many vegetarian options including an alluring array of 'pillau' or rice dishes. Most importantly, the curries at Taj Mahal are distinct– you can make out individual elements. Chef M.D. Ayubali, who hails from Dhaka but has experience from Dubai to Santiago de Chile, is a master. Several typical desserts are offered: gulap jam, or rose-water scented bread balls, or fini, a milk sweet - comfort food for Indians. And there is a full bar. Prices are on the high side but, considering yur options it's worth it. Allow $300 pesos per person for dinner. But they are pesos well spent. The Indian food at Taj Mahal is the best in the city – go for it!
Restaurante Taj Mahal
Francisco Marquez 134 (between Pachuca & Tula, 1 ½ blocks from Mazatlán)
Tel. 5211 8260
Open Daily for lunch and dinner
Note: all photos by NG except the one of NG which was taken by India-phile Val Clark
Garydenness September 7, 2010
Nice find. I generally make my own curries from tins and jars that I've gotten from the UK - but it's nice not to do the cooking! How does this place compare with the Dawat and the Tandoor House in DF? I've been to the latter - good food, but served in salsa sized dishes. In fact, we thought they were sauces when they were served...
Nicholas Gilman replies:
They don't compare...yes, salsa size dishes and bland, same-tasting curries. I always thought I could do it better at home as well for a quarter of the price.
C.M. Mayo September 7, 2010
Thanks Nick, I am so glad to know about this!
Tere Palm September 7, 2010
Can't wait to try the best Indian food IN THE COUNTRY! Wow! Sounds great!
Anonymous September 8, 2010
Great find...Talking about Indian food, have you ever tried "Harimander" (Euler 145, Polanco)?. It's an interesting place, owned by a Sikh Dharma follower. The menu is vegetarian, but it's worth a try (and you'll pay less than a hundred pesos).
Dan M. September 8, 2010
Flipped MY Turban TOO.....You are WONDERFUL! Eco Bicie....not quite!
C.Romano September 8, 2010
You are just cookin' those articles out... and very pithy they are... enjoying them much...
zMk September 16, 2010
Dunno Nicholas... Went there and spent about 700 for 2 persons (we were the only ones at 3 pm on a Tuesday) and I would say that it was ok but not amazing. The lamb was good but the shrimp wasnt tasty at all. The rice with pistaccios was ok, although I was expecting more flavour because of all those ingredients. I would even say that it is kinda similar to Tandoor (I even prefeer Tandoor's lassies and they are very simple to do). On the end, I guess that the best thing to do for an amazing indian dish is to shop condiments at Mikasa or Super Kisse and cook coconut korma with basmati rice and lemongrass by yourself. A quick question... Have u tried "molecular"/scientific cuisine here in Mexico City? Is there any place here you could recommend?
DarcyOctober 11, 2010
I went to Dawat yesterday and honestly it is worst than it used to be. As someone who lived in India I am pretty picky, the Thali was ok but honestly they added to much hot and not enough spices, and the chai was bland. Is this place better?
Anonymous October 13, 2010
Thank you so much for these recommendations!! I love Asian food and it is so hard to find here! I can't wait to try this place!
rodrigo a November 10, 2010
Nice picture, NIck. I'm going there right now.........
Jack November 10, 2010
This the 4th Indian restaurant I have tried in the DF, and indeed it was the best. The tandoori especially was excellent - thanks for the recommendation. We went there around 1:30 PM during the week, and were the only customers the whole time. Hope it does better than the Turkish place!
Michael Wolf December 22, 2010
I finally went a few weeks ago. It was good, and I expect to go back, but Dawat still holds the top spot in my opinion. Still, more competition in this space is very welcome. If only there were a place to get pho...
Edwin February 6, 2011
I just went there today and I enjoyed the food a lot, I had a very tasty dish, beef cooked with lentils and fresh parsley in very spicy blended sauce, my girl had some sort of rice in yellow curry with beef as well. She had it along with garlic nan and I had mine with coconut nan. I have to say that the food was really really good. Eventhough the restaurant was empty, what made us hesitate to get in at first, we had a very good time, they were having a wedding party at the back of the restaurant and then a couple of more tables were taken. I am going back next weekend.
Niamh March 14, 2011
There is an Indian food festival on at the Intercontinental from March 14 to 26 for those of you who are interested in Indian food.
Jorge June 18, 2012
My Fiance and I were in el DF in May of 2011. We love Indian food, specially the comfort it brings us. I discovered the Taj Mahal in DF while searching for places we would like to try while in Mexico. I have to tell you that we love the food and the atmosphere at the Taj Mahal. We will definitely go back this Fall, and revisit the awesome of the food served there. Thanks for your article and all the other ones. Jorge R.
CirculoVivo September 23, 2013
Un restaurante con la alta tradición de la comida de la India en la colonia Polanco http://goo.gl/Fg9W8q