Singh family in Columbia, MD makes one sing the praises of Punjab cuisine

              Royal Taj (www.royaltajmd.com) is located at 8335 Benson Drive in Columbia, MD. Their beautiful website matches the elegant atmosphere of the restaurant, but one can also contact them via phone at 410-381-1111. Upon entering the restaurant, one is transported to what I can only imagine a palace in old Bombay must have looked like. A huge glittering chandelier, light-colored linens, and fine china are only some of the details that adorn the beautifully decorated restaurant. All the waiters are dressed in the classic uniform of black pants, white, long-sleeved shirt, black vest, tie, shoes and belt. The entire atmosphere exudes luxury and only the highest levels of customer service which is characteristic of Indian fine dining.

The manager/owners of Royal Taj are a triumvirate of a father and his sons. Chef Jasvinder Singh, the father, is an immigrant from Punjab, India which explains why many of the dishes are specialties of that region. Chef Singh has extensive culinary experience. In fact, this is the fourth restaurant he has successfully owned. His elder son Sonny manages the full bar and many of the staff while Binda, the younger son is the epitome of customer service greeting each guest himself and even warm hugs for the regulars. In fact, Binda provided an excellent example of his mastery of customer service when we arrived at about the middle of the very popular lunch buffet rush. There were 5 small parties waiting to be seated. Binda turned around and declared that he would seat us all in less than a minute. He then proceeded to do just that as he led us all through the dining room stopping only at open tables to quickly seat each party.

My husband and I chose to visit on Wednesday, 25OCT2017 for their very popular lunch buffet so that we could try a wider variety of food. Of course, there was Basmati Rice, which is “commonly served as a pilaf in northern India” (461). We also tried the following dishes:  Punjabi Kadhi, Aldo Masala, Chicken Madras, and Mutter Paneer. The restaurant’s most popular dish is Chicken Tikka Masala, the dish that often comes to mind when many people think of Indian food. However, my favorite is their Tandoori Chicken. According to the text, cooking in the tandoor, a “cylindrical clay oven heated with charcoal … identified particularly with lamb and chicken dishes,” is “associated with the state of Punjab.” (461) Accompanying the entrée dishes, we enjoyed Masala Dosa and naan which is also often prepared in the tandoor, according to the text. The two desserts offered with the buffet are also specialties from Northern India. The cold Rice Pudding is refreshing and creamy, and the hot Gajjar Halwa, is primarily made from shredded carrots. Lastly, hot Masala Chai and water are included with the buffet, and I enjoyed their delicious Mango Lassi beverage.

Although many people think of Indian food as very spicy, the buffet offered at Royal Taj keeps the heat on low and focuses more on bringing out the flavors and aromas of each dish’s components as is typical of cuisine from the Punjab region. On the other hand, this may be one of the many details done in the spirit of hospitality since not everyone is a fan of spicy foods. Another example of the restaurant’s consideration for their guests is the menu design which includes sections for vegan and Jain selections allowing guests with particular religious or dietary restrictions to choose their meals with ease. Designing the menu with these restrictions in mind also shows the cultural influence of Northern Indian since many religions with these types of dietary limitations are prevalent in India. For example, the text explains some specifics of Jainism, “Orthodox Jains may eat only innocent foods that avoid injury to any life.” (464) This extends to the absence of honey, onions and garlic in their diet. Royal Taj seamlessly integrates Northern Indian culture into the Columbia, Maryland restaurant market to great success. The restaurant is busy seven days a week with a wide variety of clientele. One is just as likely to see a lady in a beautiful sari escorted by a gentleman wearing a traditional turban as it is to see executives wearing jeans and security badges typical of companies in the area. Further proof of Royal Taj’s success is its many awards and the mountains of glowing reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor. The restaurant credits valuing their customers as the reason they won Howard County’s Best Buffet and Best Indian Restaurant awards in 2014. In my opinion, Royal Taj is the epitome of hospitality and offers the best in Indian cuisine.

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