Our epic biryani bucket list, taste approved this Eid
It may be the Eid weekend, but let’s face it, we love our biryani all year round. And as chef Junaid Hussain of Radisson Blu, Coimbatore says, “India has as many biryanis as it does languages.” So of course, that led us on a tasting spree through the Southern states — ploughing our way through plates piled miles high. Boiled eggs were savoured. Mutton slipped off the bone. And by golly, cutlery was only used when we asked, ‘May I have some more?’ From MF Husain’s favourite spot to 3 am jaunts from the Nawab’s Kitchen in Amir Mahal, we present to you our epic biryani bucket list. For a lifetime goal to aspire towards, skydiving out of a plane can wait, but anytime is a good time to dive deep into a bucket full of biryani.
MF Husain ate here!
Ask any Kochiite what’s the one must have dish in the city and they’d definitely say Kayeekka’s biryani. Started in the year after Indian independence, Rahmathulla Restaurant was re-baptised as Kayees (after owner VK Kayee) by the people of Mattancherry. Thank your stars if you can find a table at this tiny restaurant to taste the biryani (offered in mutton, chicken, fish and prawn variants) which has captured the hearts of celebrities including artist MF Husain and chef Hemant Oberoi. Price: Rs 150 upwards.
Wash the rice in ample water, but make sure that you don’t squeeze the grain, because it’ll break. Use green chillies instead of red ones for more flavour.
— Sunilkumar Gopalan, Executive Chef, Ibis Kochi City Centre
The Biryani Club
According to Navneeth Thimmappa, one of the founders of Bengaluru Biryani Club, a Facebook page with over 13,000 followers, Amba Bhavani in Basavangudi is a great place for some authentic Bengaluru-style biryani. “This is one of the few eateries that dish up mutton biryani in the morning. Most other military hotels that open in the morning only serve chicken biryani. Not many people know about this gem of a place,” says Navneeth, who’s dedicated his spare time to zeroing in on the best biryani joints in the city and sharing his finds with biryani obsessives. “If you’re looking for something mildly flavoured, make a stop at Hotel Sahana in Wilson Garden. Here, the meat is cooked separately and added to the rice for some extra flavour,” he shares. Another great find from one of his many biryani hunts, he says, is Shivaji Military hotel in Sahakarnagar (not associated in any way with the more popular one in Banashakari). “They offer a Mysore-style biryani, which is actually a cross between a pulao and a biryani,” he explains.
50 shades of qurma
Among popular home chefs in Bengaluru is Anisa Siraj who runs Anisa’s Kitchen. Though the seasoned chef is known for her Ramzan delicacies, it’s her Kutchi Memon Biryani that always lures her clients back for her food. A multi-layered biryani that’s cooked over firewood, it is the best-seller in her kitchen. “A layer of qurma (cooked mutton/chicken gravy) forms the base and this is layered with parboiled rice, followed by another layer of qurma on top. We repeat this till the vessel is completely full. The upper-most layer is rice that is then finished with the addition of saffron milk,” explains Anisa. The dish is then sealed, either with dough or tightly wrapped with a cotton cloth and the biryani is slow-cooked (dum) on firewood. “The flavours from the cooked mutton infuse the rice and because of the slow-cooking, the meat gets tender and succulent,” adds Anisa.
Dum maro dum
As the story goes, Mumtaz Mahal once visited the army barracks and found the Mughal soldiers looking undernourished. So she asked the chef to prepare a special dish that combined both meat and rice keeping in mind the dietary needs of the men. The result was biryani and the earliest form of ‘dum’ as the meat, spices and rice were ladled in layers into a pot and allowed to slow cook in their own steam — on a bed of charcoal.
Bamboo-zled every time
A year ago, 70-year-old Murugesa Pandian nodded yes when one of his chefs suggested they include Bamboo Biryani on their all-Chettinad menu. “He had just come back from a trip to Kerala and had seen someone serve biryani from a bamboo log,” recalls Pandian who owns Nachiyar Kitchen in
T Nagar. The experiment quickly became a sought-after staple on the menu, so much so that Pandian recalls, “A few months in, we were getting so many inquiries for it that we decided to stop the production of any regular biryani on the menu.” Now, a calling card for the three-year-old restaurant — with first-timers walking in just to try this exotic biryani — the team in the kitchen is so practised, they can stuff a log with biryani in half a minute! Made with seeraga samba rice and kongu masala, this biryani is made dum-style and then steamed for a good 15 minutes after in a bamboo log to retain the flavouring. Serving as a natural pressure cooker of sorts, the chunks of meat are cooked into tender submission and the rice is moist. Available in vegetarian, chicken, mutton and prawn. Rs 180 upwards.
From the Nawab’s kitchen
When you get to taste a 200-year-old recipe direct from the Nawab of Arcot’s kitchen in Amir Mahal, you know you’re in for a royal feast. The best part is that you don’t have to wait for an invitation to the palace or a special occasion anymore, says the Nawab’s nephew Mohammed Fahd Khaleel (26) who started the venture simply called ‘The Biryani Shop’ in January this year, with cousin Farhan Ahmed (29). Set up as a ‘take away’ joint on Greams Road, the biryani made by a fleet of baawarchis (cooks) descended from a line of royal cooks, led by 85-year-old Noor Basha. Merging a taste of heritage and sleek black packaging, courtesy the young blood running the business, this biryani is priced competitively with Rs 200 being the highest price on the menu. Another perk, relates Fahd, is that, “You can get a steaming hot plate of biryani all the way up to 3 am!”
Pushcart to palazzo
With speedy service and intimidating queues — Ya Mohideen’s reputation of being a ‘paradise for biryani lovers’ does not disappoint. Neither by flavour nor frenzy. Started by Abu Bakr (48) as a pushcart in Pallavaram as far back as 22 years ago, business today is booming with a massive glass facade building serving up a sit-down style experience in the comfort of air conditioning, while a modest shop across the street (which you can’t miss with the line-up of bikes in the afternoon) caters more pocket friendly rates to the masses. “When I started as a 20-something back in 1996, it was just me,” recalls Abu, squeezing us as in he hustles through the chaos. “But now, my whole family is a part of the business, including my son who just finished college,” he shares with a smile. Abu is taking the day off for Eid, but the shop will be open the day after or the crowds might just line up outside his door! Rs 150 upwards.
For succulent chunks of meat, marinate with a little bit of raw papaya — about 25 to 30 grams for a kilo of mutton. The best cuts for biryani are lamb shoulder and the hind legs, as the meat has plenty
— Chef Shankar Padmanabhan of Southern Spice, Taj Coromandel, Chennai
Rice up: What to put in your biryani
While Basmati is the quickest association to aromatic biryani, food researcher and historian Rakesh Raghunathan tells us that this, in fact, came with a Persian influence, and was not originally from the South. “If you look at areas in South India where biryani is famous — like Arcot, Dindigul or around the Chettinad region, Seeraga Samba (Rs 125 per kg) is, in fact, the grain of choice.” Short-grained and hardy, this option holds up well with the masala mash-up style that the South Indian flavour palate is known for. A bit of trivia about it is that the name Seeraga Samba was inspired by Seeraga (cumin) because back in the day, grains were named based on their appearance, size, colour and shape. Alternatively, another option that has gained popularity over the decades is Kichili Samba from Athur, Rs 100 per kg. Available at Terra Earthfood Store and Dhanyam Organic Super Store.
Keep the faith
With no written documentation, one may never learn of the true origins of the Pannaiyar Biriyani. But, with food historian and writer KT Achaya referencing a similar rice dish in the Tamil literature of the early centuries of the Christian era, the oral traditions of a biryani that emerged in the Malabar region close to St Thomas’ arrival holds credence. “Blending Christian faith and Hindu culture, the converted Brahmin families began cooking meat in a style that replicated their vegetarian cooking,” shares head chef Vijaymani V of Garden of Taste. Tempering down the heat for the Portuguese who then colonised the Malabar region, the spicy meat and rice preparation was moderated with coconut milk. “This fare eventually moved into Tamil Nadu, from one of the Christian communities that lived near the Western Ghats. Picked up by the cooks of the Pannaiyar community, this biryani is a coming together of Nazarene sensibilities (Malabar region) with flavours from the Ambur Biryani.” Drawing from the Nazarene technique of moderating the heat, the biryani is characterised by a fragrant, spiced white rice that rates low on the Scoville scale. Popular in Christian homes in the region, this eight-spice biryani does away with the red-hot intensity by only making use of green chillies.
No tomatoes allowed
Perhaps the only biryani that is indigenous to Coimbatore, Angannan Biriyani’s legacy is less than a century old. Dating back to the 1920s, this unique seeraga samba rice biryani derives its name from its creator Angannan Pillai, who used a special powdered spice mixture similar to the Thalapakattu style. A one-pot meal, the dish derives its yellowish colour from a special biryani paste that uses green chillies for its seasoning. “We do not use red chillies or tomatoes in the preparation,” shares N J Sundaresan, the great-grandson of the founder. Non-greasy and light on the stomach, the rice is boiled in the stock, we learn. Paired best along with the chicken roast, their signature mutton biryani is seasoned with crushed garlic and green chillies.
I think the most important part of the preparation process is the Yakhni (meat stock). The secret is to place khada masala (whole spices) in a muslin cloth while boiling your meat in water so the flavours infuse. Don’t forget to remove the spices once done, no one likes to bite into a piece of cardamom while eating biryani!
— Chef Junaid Hussain, Kebab Factory, Radisson Blu Coimbatore
Quinoa biryani, anyone?
The Park Hyderabad has made a name for itself in serving a few novel and innovative biryanis. Steering clear of the Dakkani style of dum biryani is their Sufiyani Biryani which executive chef Thimma Reddy started cooking here around four years ago — and the patrons love it. “The dish which is developed from Mughal traditions is rich in flavours, but not spices,” says the chef, adding that it takes around an hour-and-a-half to prepare and is priced at `740 for one portion. It is milder on the palate since it has ingredients like almonds, khoya, ghee and cardamom that goes into it. The hotel is also looking forward to launching its Quinoa Biryani which is for weight-watchers and has a low glycemic index, is rich in protein and Vitamin B complex as well.
A biryani trail in Hyderabad can never be complete without a visit to the Chicha’s. The chefs at this unassuming little eatery, have been trained at the kitchens of the famous Alam Khan family which is well-known in the city for being experts in the art of biryani making. The casual diner founded by Qutub Alam Khan, Fauzan Khan and Aamir Baig, in April 2016, has been one of the great levellers —where everyone from youngsters in hipster clothes to Tollywood stars and foreigners line-up for their share of the most famous creation, Kacchi Akhni ki Dum Biryani-Mutton. “The menu only has a few dishes as we wanted to serve Hyderabadi delicacies which are as authentic as possible,” says Qutub, the co-founder and managing partner of the outlet, adding that the Mutton Biryani that is served gets as close as possible to the ones found in the hearths of the old Muslim homes. He adds, “My uncle Nawab Mehboob Alam Khan had always maintained, even if you cook a few dishes, make sure they are the best.”
Always pay attention to the masala you want to use. For instance, the garam masala can be sun-dried for 44 to 48 hours such that maximum amount of flavour is retained. Or pan-roast them to retain the essential oils and the aroma. Cook in copper pots with thick bottoms, as it evenly distributes the temperature.
— Chef Inam Khan, Steak House, Hyderabad Banjara Hills
— Text by Sonali Shenoy, Rashmi Rajagopal Lobo, Ayesha Tabassum, Paulami Sen,
Rebecca Vargese & Jose Joy
Location courtesy for the main shot: Taj Coromandel Chennai