タージ マハール Taj Mahal, Sapporo

As part of our increasingly impressive list of the best Indian restaurants in Sapporo, we had to include the Taj Mahal Indian restaurant, in Sapporo Factory.

To the east of Odori park, a short walk from the Bus Center-Mae Station (バスセンター前駅), you’ll find Sapporo Factory; a mix of a modern mall (that covers two blocks or real estate), and an older, brick structure that is part of the Sapporo Beer legacy.  On the northern block of that mall, on the B1 level is a food court. And in that food court is Taj Mahal – one of Sapporo’s very finest Indian restaurants.

When I first arrived in Sapporo, I had certain attitudes about what I wanted from an Indian restaurant. I’ve never been to India, but I have had Indian food “100 different ways;” from very high end Indian in NYC, to cheap-dirty curry spots in the Tenderloin in SF.  When I first came to Taj Mahal, I remember the food being good, but the experience didn’t create a strong impression. And as I returned for more recent visits (it has been probably two years since I was here last), I am more impressed.

It feels special here, at Taj Mahal.  It’s the almost circus-like entrance. It’s the ornate uniforms that the staff wear. It’s the music.
It’s all of it. It is a very special place.

The interior design and decoration you’ll find at Taj Mahal Indian in Sapporo are elaborate. It’s a basement restaurant, in a concrete structure. But the usual Sapporo-style ceiling of air ducts and electrical conduit are well camouflaged with layers of Indian culture and fine touches like cloth covered lamps, tapestries, and heavy wooden beams; all of which help to create a fantastically foreign, but also organic, healthy, comfortable vibe.

Taj Mahal has a patience and history to it; like an old tree.  The silverware are heavy, like you might be given at a nice dinner in a classic home. The service is excellent.  There is an intelligence and a charm to Taj Mahal.  Even the water glasses feel like family heirlooms. Nothing here is “cheap” or rushed.  In fact, everything feels rich and cared for.

While the atmosphere (ふんいき) is extraordinary, you should of course visit Taj Mahal for their food.

And as you scan the menu, you’ll see they do over a dozen different flavors of Indian curry, many of which are available with chicken, with lamb, as an Indian seafood curry, or with vegetables only.  With chicken, you’ll see Butter Chicken curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, Sag Chicken, and their Chicken Keema curry.  As I’ll get into below, I am a big fan of the Chicken Jalfrezi.

Indian food often comes with some choices suited for vegetarians.  On a recent visit, we brought our favorite Iyengar yoga teacher in Sapporo, and he is always interested in what is on offer for those that don’t eat meat. On a recent visit, he chose the saag paneer.

The saag paneer at Taj Mahal in Sapporo was… fantastic.  That is not my first choice, and I wouldn’t typically order it, but when my friend asked me try it, and I was glad I did.

I am not sure that this is the custom at lunch (it does not seem to be), but for dinner on one visit to Taj Mahal my meal began with papadam.

To begin to explore the Taj Mahal menu, we can present one my favorite Indian appetizers; the veggie samosa.

Indian food (as much as any genre of food) has an incredible range of “quality.”  And the very high quality at Taj Mahal is obvious in their samosa.  The crust is light, like a pie.  And the filling was also not too heavy; fried, but not oily.  There were peas.  And some raisons that while cooked were still full and fresh.  And the flavor was subtle and deep, and while the chutney was tempting, I didn’t want to distract from the flavor of the samosa itself.

We liked the samosa so much, we came back again (soon after) to have another taste.  Our previous visit was on our mind as we’d tried the samosa at Jhoti Indian restaurant in Sapporo, and there was no comparison; Taj Mahal does the preparation with more love, and maybe a wider range of ingredients (on this second visit we noticed cashews in the mix), making their samosa unusually good.  .

For a typical experience of Taj Mahal in Sapporo, you could intentionally aim to explore their set menu.  In general, in Japan, it seems you will always get the best value when you choose from a set menu.  And you’ll get to try several things at once, without having to know much about the style of food you’re eating.

There are several sets to choose from.  Many include both rice and naan.  For one person, Taj Mahal has several sets that will satisfy your craving for Indian food in Sapporo, and keep the tab from being too intimidating.

When we first published this review, we ordered everything individually, but we have since been back and ordered a set on purpose, so we could give you an idea of what that looks like.

We tried the Calcutta set at Taj Mahal.  There was a small dish of chicken curry that was very good.  You can see a simple salad with a bright red sauce on it.  The set came with both papadam and a small naan.  But the most interesting part for me was the keema; that meat sauce served over rice.  It was amazing, and (almost) my favorite part of the set.

You may also notice that the set came with some tandoori chicken; a chicken leg, done in the tandoori oven.  And, it was disappointing.  I would definitely try the tandoori chicken again, but it seems too “soft,” almost under cooked.  I’m no expert, but I have had tandoori maybe 100 times.  And I like the almost dry quality that comes the extended time in the marinade and from a long bake in the oven; that “baked” quality makes tandoori chicken special.

I am thinking of the former Krishna Indian restaurant in Sapporo (it has gone out of business, as far as I know), which had delicious tandoori chicken, perfectly cooked.  And for a similar experience, the tandoori chicken at Mohan Dish (in Kita ku) is better, as I see it.

But the real surprise of the set, was…

For some reason, the set at Taj Mahal began with a small dish of soup.  Not only was it yet another example of beautiful presentation, but the soup itself was spectacular.  I crave it, just thinking of it.  It’s thin, but near the bottom was some kind of meat (?).  It looked like small bits of egg, but my guess is (based on the texture) that it was some kind of shellfish, like oysters.  As I finished the soup (and I wanted ever last taste of it), a mix of pepper and other seasonings swirled around the bottom of the bowl.  Truly remarkable.

I don’t know what that soup was made of, and I have never had anything like it; it was delicious, and surprising  and gave me another reason to love Taj Mahal.

Several times in this post I have said I would talk about the Jalfrezi, so let’s get into that.

Jalfrezi is done in a tomato sauce, and includes some large slices of onions and peppers. This is in-apt comparison, but Jalfrezi reminds me of Mexican fajitas (see Sapporo’s El Tope for more on that dish). There is a place called Pakwan (in San Francisco) that first introduced me to Chicken Jalfrezi. It wasn’t one of their regular curries, it was made as a kind of special dish. At Pakwan, they would serve it for a few days and then it would disappear for a few weeks. I loved it.

When I come to Sapporo’s Taj Mahal (and I have been several times), it is that Jalfrezi that I want.  Of course I do.  And once again, it was so.

My meal on this occasion was excellent.  I was partially full from the samosa (which had been the highlight of the meal).  As I have said elsewhere, I love naan, and the naan at Taj Mahal is perfect.  The rice was buttery, heavy, very dense (maybe my only criticism), but as I spooned the chicken jalfrezi into the mix, I was deeply satisfied.

I was picky on this visit.  Chicken jalfrezi is not part of their typical “set” menu. I ordered that curry (which was a large portion), and the rice and naan, and of course that delicious Kingfisher Indian beer, all separately.  With the addition of the veggie samosa, it was a somewhat expensive dinner.  For less voracious eaters, you could easily split what I ordered across two people.

While the service is attentive and excellent, my order of Chicken Jalfrezi curry at Taj Mahal did not come quickly. And that is okay. I assume that curry is “off menu,” in that it is less common and it needs some time to prepare.  And insofar as the dining experience was “slow,” they may have made me enjoy the experience even more.

Taj Mahal also has a separate biryani menu.  These are traditional dishes that are served mixed with rice.

We didn’t make it focus of this review, but we did notice that Taj Mahal has a full page on their menu dedicated to soup curry.  As soup curry is a Sapporo specialty (and we believe it is), when the weather turns colder this winter we want to come back for a taste.

As a final report on the special culture created at Taj Mahal, we should mention the music; it’s a classic Indian sound.  Sometimes contemporary, but usually calm, and less hectic than some modern “Bollywood” music.  The music (played in conjunction with music videos displayed on a few TV screens through the restaurant) is another welcome addition.

(It is testament to how rich the environment at Taj Mahal that the TVs don’t seem to be able to steal much attention from the other influences.  TVs almost always distract and rob us from the dinning experience.  But Taj Mahal has so many layers of “India” to offer, the TVs seem minor, and barely noticeable.)

We highly recommend Taj Mahal at Sapporo Factory.  And it is one of the great privileges of this blog, that as we work to give you world class reviews of Sapporo restaurants, we have to revisit some of our favorite places in Sapporo, and we (once again) get to experience the fantastic food in this city.

As we are most certainly experts in all things ようしょく (洋食, western food) in Sapporo, we can make a few other recommendations for Indian food.  It may not be our favorite, but we do like Mohan Dish (in Kita-ku) quite a bit.  We recently discovered Authentic Indian Curry Aman (near Juichi station), and their “Chicken Curry” is amazing.  We have had not one, but two meals at Jhoti in Sapporo recently (we recommend their Gobi Manchurian) If the idea of Indian inspired soup curry is tempting, we very much recommend Delhi (at Tanukikouji ichi), we literally ate there for lunch today (and two days ago, yes… it’s that good).  And… for what we will declare as the very best Indian food in Sapporo, we will point you to Jhad Pul Indian restaurant in Maruyama.

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