Indian Food Isn't Always About Curry

A flavorful journey with modern Indian cuisine.

Hanif was born in Kenya and is the owner of Tikka Hut, a modern Indian fusion restaurant in Downtown Albuquerque.  The cuisine reflects the long history of conquest and occupation along the East coast of Africa by the mighty seafaring nations of the time – the Portuguese, the Arabs, and the British. Hanif is quite a food historian and he honors the long legacy of the spice culture in his dishes.

His menu is also reminiscent of his childhood. Hanif’s family would prepare tikkas for their travels. “I call them a Middle Eastern/Indian version of beef jerky.” Tikka is a Punjabi word for small pieces and became a historically popular food among travelers dating back to 1700 BCE.

"My brother’s tikka is my favorite to date. Taking full command of the charcoal pit most evenings he blended succulent marinades of yogurt, ginger, garlic, black pepper, turmeric and mixed spices with fresh chilies into a magical masala to coat tenderized meats and vegetables," says Hanif. His restaurant serves up Tikka beef and chicken kebobs, homemade flatbreads, sweet potatoes with chili sauce, and grilled paneer. “These are some items we would take on our road trips.”

Tikka Hut is not a traditional Indian restaurant. There are no curries, but plenty of savoriness. The restaurant creates a fusion of Middle Eastern and Indian flavors. “When people come in, they are like wow- I didn’t expect that!” Everything is made in-house. It’s different. It’s unique,” reports Hanif. The fusion of East meets West culminates in their version of a chile relleno, the Nopal Pakora, served with guacamole.

Fusing flavors from different cultures is not a new concept. It dates back thousands of years to the Spice Trail. The Muslims controlled the spice route from China to Spain, which led to an exchange of ideas and techniques between cultures, thus influencing cuisines. Hanif describes, “When the Indians came to Kenya they brought in all of their spices...India had all the heat. They combined flavors and added spices to the dishes, and those cooking traditions continue till this day.” Cooking with garlic, ginger and the plentiful use of chilies is part of Tikka’s technique for creating their flavorful dishes.

"The mix of Persian, Indian, and Swahili tikka savours made it into my own kitchen in Albuquerque and more than forty years on, my children, their cousins and friends relish in hearty get-togethers around a flaming tikka barbeque. Different time. Different place. Same pleasure," says Hanif.

While the name might mean small- the portions are not. “We do a fantastic lunch $8.99” for a large dish of chicken pili pili, which is an Indian-inspired roast chicken. It’s really phenomenal,” says Hanif. The Chicken Pili Pili is one of the most popular dishes at Tikka Hut and comes as a traditional flavored chicken or a spicier version for an extra kick.

Tikka Hut’s menu is filled with vegetarian options. Roasted beets, curry cauliflower and grilled eggplant are just a few of the fan favorites at the restaurant.  These options are available as tacos, flatbreads, Tikka rolls, Tikka bowls, plates, and part of the Hummasaria - freshly made hummus, garlic confit, escabeche, and olive oil served with your choice of toppings and accompanied with freshly made and grilled pita. 

Even the desserts at Tikka Hut have years of tradition steeped in them. For generations spices like saffron, cardamom and turmeric were boiled with milk and converted into "kulfi", an Indian ice cream. The desert was thought to have originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 16th century. It is denser and creamier than most ice creams. Tikka Hut’s kulfi is called Ku-lato. It is a modern twist on the frozen dessert and comes in 6 flavors: guava, pineapple, passion, mango, dulce de leche, and Mexican vanilla.

Hanif’s diverse background, knowledge and palate have truly influenced a variety of delicacies for his diners. Tikka Hut or “small pieces”…there’s a little bit for everybody.”

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