In 2014, my father and I traveled around Bagan, a city in Myanmar dotted with over 2,000 temples. I’ve always enjoyed Indian food but the meals I had in Bagan made me realize that I had never tasted real Indian food before. The mouthwatering curries steeped in rich sauces and the Tandoori chicken we tried were more flavorful than any Indian dishes I had eaten back home in Vietnam.
I was intrigued when my friend Ishita, an international student at Temple University Beasley School of Law, told me about Tiffin on a car ride to a friend’s house. “Tiffin has the most authentic Indian food in north Philadelphia. You gotta try it!” Ishita exclaimed. She raved about their butter chicken and biryani, a spicy mixed rice dish.
When Munish Narula created Tiffin.com in 2006, he never expected his delivery-only eatery would explode in popularity. Customers demanded dine-in options, and Narula converted his storage unit in Fishtown into a tiny dining room. Today, you can find almost a dozen Tiffin restaurants throughout Philadelphia and Cherry Hill. Perhaps Tiffin’s success amounts to their convenient takeout – they deliver thousands of tiffins (containers of home cooked meals) every day.
Although my trip to Bagan made me skeptical of ethnic restaurants in America deemed ‘authentic,’ I decided to give Tiffin a try. On a chilly evening in November – the perfect weather for spicy food! – I met my friends, Liz, Ishita, and Sara, Jigsaya at the restaurant. Situated on a tiny corner of Gerard Avenue, Tiffin looks quaint from the outside; inside, the capucine red walls and sleek lacquer furniture add an unexpected touch of luxury and brightness to the dining room.
From left: Butter chicken, Kakori Kebab, Chana Masala
Throughout our meal, service was fast and attentive. I was surprised to find that Tiffin’s appetizers play it safe – the chana masala, a spicy chickpea curry made with chana and kala (black) chana chickpeas, reminded me of a typical yellow curry takeout. The dish had flavor, but it was missing some much needed spice.
The butter chicken dish left me pleasantly surprised. The chicken was tender and covered in a delicious red sauce that was at once tangy and savory, spicy and sweet and made me hungry for more – by the end of dinner, I sheepishly asked to scrape out what was left over in the bowl. An array of seasonings, from fenugreek and garam masala, and several hours of marination in a rich gravy sauce give this dish its complex flavor profile.
We finished our meal with a kakori kebab, grilled lamb skewers seasoned with mace and caraway. Slices of daw papaya add a delicious element of sweetness to this dish, a unique take on Middle Eastern fare. Despite being well seasoned, the lamb could have been juicier – it was slightly overcooked for my liking.
If you’ve never tried Indian, Tiffin’s is a fine introduction to traditional Indian cuisine. Although their recipes don’t take bold risks, I praise Tiffin for recreating classic Indian dishes with a twist.