“In India,” says Patchaiappan Murugavel, “everyone – parents, grandparents, children – is interested in cooking.”
He should know, he grew up in Pondicherry, a pleasant seaside town at the end of a branch railway line from Chennai in Tamil Nadu.
“My grandma cooked three meals a day for our family. She didn’t use curry powder; she ground spices from scratch,” he says. “That’s what we are trying to do here at Tandoori Guys. We have more than a hundred kinds of spice in the restaurant kitchen, and we make a different blend for each dish.”
Murugavel is co-chef and co-owner of the Broken Arrow establishment, along with Raja Ramalingam. (“But you can’t talk to Raja now, he’s in India. He just got married,” Murugavel tells us.)
By third grade, Murugavel was already cooking. The recipes he learned from his family were the food of Southern India.
“Back home, we don’t have creamy, buttery sauces like tikka masala; most of our food is coconut-based and vegan,” he says. But he loved cooking so much that he went to the Pondicherry branch of the Institute of Hotel Management, a sprawling academy set up by the Indian government. After three years there, and another five years cooking at hotel restaurants in India, he can now cook, well, just about anything you’ll find in India.
“Even haleem and nihari?” he’s asked, referring to two famous dishes of northern Pakistan.
“Yes, even those,” he replies. “If you order a catered dinner, we can cook them. Tulsa has a big community of people from southern India. They want to cater dinners for holidays and special events, and we want to serve them. We can cater authentic meals from any region in India.”
You’ll find some of these south Indian dishes on the regular a la carte menu. Dishes like rich, flavorful chicken chettinad, which Murugavel grew up with. That dish features chicken in a thick, sumptuous sauce made of red chiles, kalpasi, coriander, cumin, fennel, poppy seeds and more. The sauce is so rich you’d guess it has a bucket of cream, but it doesn’t have any at all – it’s coconut milk. There’s also nilgiri chicken, in a bright green sauce made with curry leaves, cilantro, mint and coconut. But most of the menu comprises the sort of dishes you’ll find in Indian restaurants hereabouts, dishes like chicken tikka masala and lamb korma. They want to appeal, Murugavel explains, to the general population, not just to people from India.
And those popular dishes excel. Breads such as naan are cooked in a clay tandoor oven – which you’d expect, given the restaurant’s name. They make an effort to cater to vegans, inventing plant-based versions of many dishes. There’s Indo-Chinese food too, which was the food invented in India by Chinese immigrants.
Most popular of all are the buffets. Those all-you-can-eat extravaganzas take place every lunchtime, every weekend dinner and on some holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes, you’ll find dishes from Kerala or Tamil Nadu – dishes that aren’t on the regular menu. Once a month (soon to be once a fortnight) there’s a Thursday vegan buffet, your best chance of finding those rare South Indian dishes.
Tandoori Guys opened six years ago. Is there anything Murugavel wants to say to his patrons after all this time?
“I want to thank the community,” he says. “I’ve always been happy I started a business in the Tulsa area. And I also want to say, we make a different spice blend for every dish, everything is done from scratch. This takes work and time, and sometimes there’s a delay. Dishes don’t come out of the kitchen right away. We’re sorry – but we don’t want to compromise our quality.”
Photo caption: Tulsa-based Tandoori Guys provides a variety of Eastern cuisine dishes. Photo courtesy Tandoori Guys