For many, there’s nothing better than mom’s home cooking. For Chef Faraz Sardharia of Tandoor Char House in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, the notion is a mantra that runs his own restaurant.
“My parents were always the traditional type,” he explains. The Sardharias moved from Karachi to Chicago when Faraz was just two years old. Like thousands of other immigrants before them, they came in search of better opportunities for their four sons. Through the years, the Sardharia family assimilated into the city of Chicago while keeping ties to their culture alive through the most powerful connection—family recipes.
“I always embraced the home cooked meals of my mother,” Faraz continues. “I used to tell her that when I grow up and start my own restaurant, I [will] have every guest try your achar.”
Like many teenagers, Faraz picked up a part-time job working at Eduardo’s Natural Pizza on Halstead. By the time he was 18 years old, he was the manager.
“I didn’t have much money saved up but I wanted to have ownership,” Sardharia recalls. “So, I starting saving when I was 18 until I was 24.”
Those savings became the sole source of funding for what today stands as Tandoor Char House.
The Making of Tandoor Char House
True to his word, Chef Faraz Sardharia used his savings to open up Tandoor Char House. The restaurant honors his family and their traditions.
“We’re BYOB out of respect to our parents and their faith,” he says. “In our entrance, there’s an art piece that says Bismillah which means in the name of God. It’s a suggestion offered up before people start to eat.”
In particular, Tandoor Char House keeps Chef Faraz’s promise to his mother. It opened on her birthday and 2012 and it still serves her achar.
“It’s truly a blessing to actually make that happen,” he says.
Together with his brother, Fahim Sardharia, Faraz continues to practice and perfect their family recipes.
“It’s a fusion menu,” he explains. “We look at different regions and reimagine culinary traditions. Chicago is such a melting pot of culinary regions. I wanted to put a local touch to my traditional family recipes.”
As its name suggests, Tandoor Char House is particularly known for their stellar “tandoor” dishes.
A Brief History of Tandoori Cooking
A tandoor is a type of cylindrical oven popularly used in India and parts of Asia. The tandoor oven holds slow burning wood charcoal that releases an intense heat (600-900 degrees Fahrenheit).
Tandoori is the method of cooking with a tandoor. Believed to have originated 3,000-5,000 years ago, the clay ovens were built within the earth and lit with charcoal.
Today, the ovens are made of clay or metal and most use gas as a source of heat. Each tandoor has a small opening at the bottom which is controlled by the cook in order to let oxygen control the levels of heat.
When cooking meats in a tandoor, the protein is skewered onto long metal sticks that are inserted into the oven. Fat and juices drip into the fuel, which significantly enhances the charring flavor.
Indian flatbreads like naan or tandoori roti are prepared by slapping the rolled dough onto the upper sides of the oven (using a glove or cushion) and allowing it to cook and blister to the right temperature and consistency.
Tandoori cooking is one of the healthiest forms of cooking proteins. Since the intense flavor comes from a hearty spice marinade and the charcoal, there’s no need for added fats. In fact, tandoori cooking is said to have originated as a result of Ayurvedic philosophy of cooking, which states that the food we eat affects our bodies and minds and must be prepared naturally and with balance. Any tandoori dish must have all six taste elements—salt, sour, sweet, pungent, bitter, and astringent.
Tandoor Char House has spent the last seven years taking this centuries-old tradition of cooking and making it their own.
Contributing to the Indian Food Scene in Chicago
“There’s a void in the Indian BBQ scene,” Sardharia continues. “We want to serve fresh, phenomenal BBQ with some creativity.”
When they opened, Tandoor Char House was the first Halal steakhouse in Chicago. They still offer rib eye cuts done tandoor style. Using their grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s recipes, Sardharia and his brothers continue to guide their menu.
“We’re big on quality control. We are there every day. We want our customers to receive every little thing the way we want them to.”
The familial touch doesn’t stop there. Sardharia has always been adamant about spreading his family recipes and, so, the restaurant is one of the most popular options for on-site caterings, weddings, barbecues, and street festivals.
“I want everyone to experience how good my family meals at home were,” Sardharia says with pride.