For me, Indian food has been an acquired taste. Until the past 5 years, I’ve avoided anything spicy. I’m not entirely sure why. Until a friend of mine, whose mom is Indian and dad is Pakistani, gave me a life changing piece of advice. We were in Botswana, which has a significant Indian community. Botswana was probably the first place I tried authentic Indian food. My friend told me, if the food is spicy and you can’t handle it, eat it with a little bit of raita to tone it down but preserve the flavors. That advice allowed me to slowly explore Indian food, and now, it is one of my favorite types of food.

There are only a handful of Indian restaurants in Birmingham. I have tried most of them, and like everyone else, I have strong opinions about my favorites. I will write about other places in other posts, but today I will focus on a place that I’ve eaten at twice this week and am craving more: Taj.

Taj is in a small strip mall on Highland Avenue, right near the highway entrance, between Southside and Highland park. This strip mall contains a Western grocery store, a package store, and a nail salon. Quite frankly, it looks sketch. But once you enter Taj you are in a different world.

The place smells like a blend of welcoming spices. The atmosphere feels very homey-it’s a modestly-sized restaurant, with a small bar and friendly staff.

This post is a mash-up of my favorite items from the two meals we had at Taj this week.

When you sit down you are given papadum, a slightly spicy cracker served with 2 chutneys:


We almost always get 1 mango lassi to share, and within minutes, have ordered a second. These are light and delicious mango and yogurt drinks, the perfect way to start a meal:


We tried an appetizer we had never eaten before, Sev Betata Puri. This is a combination of crunchy biscuits, potatoes, and vegetables. Something I will definitely order again:


Then, the main dishes. This week, I tried saag for the first time. Saag is a dish of puréed, creamy, slightly spicy spinach. It is often served with cheese, but I ordered it with potatoes. I’ve been craving this every day since (hence the second trip to Taj this week):


Then, chicken tikka masala. One of the most popular Indian dishes around the world, it probably originated in a restaurant in the UK! Mild to moderately spicy, and delicious. Look at that beautiful red color:


Then naan, both garlic and regular, an essential accompaniment to any meal. Naan allows you to sop up every last bite of your main dish, ensuring that no drop is left behind:


Every time I go to Taj, a plate of sizzling meat and veggies goes running by. This week, I had to try it. This is one of Taj’s specialties, cooked in a tandoor or clay oven. We had the mixed grill, which consisted of chicken, beef, and lamb. That blurriness is steam. Amazing:


We ordered raita, but we ate it before we could photograph it! The mango chutney was slightly sweet and slightly spicy, and like the raita, was mixed in with every bite:


And if course, every meal is served with delicious basmati rice:


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