Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rice and Meat

This friend of mine suddenly pulled a fast one on me. He claimed all biriyanis are overrated... what is biriyani after all, he asked? Some good old red meat and uncomplicated rice thrown together with a dash of onion and garlic paste. And voila - you have a meal for the lazy male Greek god, whose simple mind cannot process more than 'duh meat yeah'!

What the fornication is this? Has Tunday Kababi lost out to Saravana Bhavan? Are the Gosht Godfathers getting masscared by the Sambhar Mafia? Has the poster boy of cholesterol converted after his marriage?
Those are questions that will only be answered when he lands up in Delhi next but for the time being, I thought it would be interesting to explore this whole business of mixing rice and meat to come up with food that at least some crazy people will take some pains to get to!

First things first, there is no better example of an oxymoron than Vegetable Biriyani.
For the veggies, please understand that meat constitutes approximately 80% of the cost of a non-veg rice dish. If you replace meat with vegetable, then the price is reduced by 5% and cost falls by 90%. Do the math and try to figure how you are contributing to entry of F&B entrepreneurs into the Forbes List of Richest People in the World!

There is a pretty strong misconception in Calcutta that non-veg food ceases to exist once you cross Orissa. So, when I was posted to Madras for my first job, the entire dynasty went into mourning. I steeled myself for an extended tryst with rice paste delicacies. As luck would have it, I took up residence in a place called Royapettah which has the highest density of biriyani restaurants in urban India apart from the Charminar and Jama Masjid areas! So, while my grandmothers were shedding tears over my gastronomical misfortune, I would be breaking fast with a quick half-plate chicken biriyani at Velu Military Hotel!

Anyways, the addition to my biriyani repertoire in Madras happened by way of Chettinad Biriyani.
It is the spiciest and least oily biriyani I have ever had. The spice was not through chilli but black pepper - which had a more gasping kick. Of course, the dish would also be redolent of cardamom, cinnamom and a whiff of coconut (apart from the standard onion and garlic). Also, the recipe works best with chicken because mutton tends to absorb the spices more and that makes it a little overpowering.
Karaikudi was one restaurant in Madras where I pigged out on all kinds of Chettinad dishes, though I cannot - for the life of me - remember how their biriyani was.

From Chennai, I moved on to Bangalore - where the entrant was Andhra Biriyani.
I think I have made this point earlier as well that the best Andhra cuisine is found in the capital city of Karnataka. This kind of biriyani had chillies - lots and lots of them - with green chillies being cooked into the rice and a whole lot of red chilli powder added on for good measure. Again, it is not oily at all and almost dry. So you have to add copious quantities of raita to make it wet and dull the chilli!
RR and Bheema's (both on Church Street) have killer recipes of the Andhra biriyani. The ubiquitous Nandhini chain is also worth a meal - at least for beginners because you might die of a spice attack if you try out Bheema's on first go!

Time for the third Southern metro to raise its hand be counted for probably the most famous brand of biriyani - the Hyderabadi Biriyani.
This has a very strong Mughal influence and uses a lot of oil and saffron. A lot of hue and cry is made whether the meat should be cooked along with the rice (dum) or be pre-cooked and added to the rice. Frankly, the first one is a high-risk, high-gain option. If you manage to cook the meat right, then it is a feast for the gods. If not, order takeway!
And don't forget the Haleem to go with the biriyani. Minced meat made into a thick porridge by adding daal and wheat, it is traditionally eaten to break the Ramzan fast. It is a deadly rich accompaniment to the biriyani and as Anthony Bourdain says, "If I have to die, I want to die with a morsel of this in my mouth!"
If you go to the swankier places like the Kakatiya Sheraton, then they go the whole hog and serve the biriyani in earthen pots with the cover sealed with atta dough. However, if you can make do without these trivialities, then the place to go is Paradise. Cannot think of too many restaurants which identify the road/place they are located in and Paradise is one such institution standing proudly on Paradise Circle! Bawarchi is the other contender (which also has an equally fanatical following) but I personally found them to be overrated.
The most revolutionary rendition of the Hyderabadi biriyani is the Midnight Biriyani - which is a buffet of biriyanis (even veg ones!) served with an assortment of raita, mirchi ka saalan and haleem! Hotel Green Park's no-frills offering is highly recommended after the pubs close and all that dancing has burnt a whole lot of calories!

Bombay is one city where I have hardly sampled a fraction of the food it offers. Also, thanks to the cosmo nature, there is a little bit of every good thing in Bombay which I have only scratched the surface of. Blame it on the long commute!
I have only heard of Irani Biriyani of Cafe Britannia and managed to sample it at conveniently located Lucky's at Bandra. The intricacies of Bohri Biriyani remain unsampled. The marination, the gravy-centred rice and the spice will have to be researched on a later day.
What I can comment on is Cafe Noorani near Haji Ali. I have had the privilege of having their Fish Biriyani and that was quite heavenly. Imagine a succulent fish tikka with a semi-gravy feel getting soaked in the oil/ghee of the rice and becoming softer! Now imagine a game... there is a mound of rice and you do not know how many such tikkas are there in it! You have an hour on Sunday afternoon to find out... wanna play?

Now, I go North and arrive at the biriyani that developed closest to the Mughal kitchen itself - the Awadhi Biriyani. They operate on the principle that you cannot spoil a dish in any way if you add a whole lot of meat and ghee.
Not surprisingly, there are very few good biriyani joints in Delhi, which is essentially a roti-shoti-tikka-shikka town. Deez Biriyani does a reasonable job of show and taste by home delivering a mean Awadhi Biriyani in a covered earthen handi.
Delhi has one very robust culinary culture. Most of its localities have meat shops which double up as kabab-paratha joints in the evening. Thanks to their day job, the quality of the meat is first-rate and it is very difficult to screw up from there. They extend this by taking party orders for biriyani which they get made from secret kitchens in the Jama Masjid area. Our local butcher - Shamim's - supplies by the kilo if you order a day in advance and provides a biriyani with the highest meat/rice ratio I have had.

That brings us to Calcutta - which embraced the Awadhi biriyani and made it into the Calcutta Biriyani. Imagine a perfect recipe and suddenly you feel it does not have enough cholesterol. So, you add a potato to it! Still not clogging the arteries? Oh well, thrown in a boiled egg as well and light-fry the bloody egg before adding it.
Shiraz, aptly described as The Golden Restaurant, is the iconic Calcutta restaurant which has the added sentimental value of being the first place where I had biriyani from. Calcuttans love underdogs a lot and arguments even more. So, any discussion on the best biriyani joints have a lot of contenders and usually end in abusive fisticuffs. In recent times, Arsalan (on the Park Circus circle) has emerged as a place which could hold its own in such discussions.
No roundup of Calcutta biriyanis is complete without a mention of the annual Eid feast at the Saturday Club, organised by the Club's Muslim waiters. They get in bawarchis from Lucknow and the goats are walked down as well. Gentle souls would cringe but apparently the long walk improves the meat quality of their thighs. It is meant for a private gathering - only the Club members and their guests can attend - but let me very confidently state that this is the only perfect biriyani I have tasted.

Life is all about finding your own perfect mixture of rice and meat.

19 comments:

Sue said...

You know what I really like about biriyanis? For whatever reason (I think it's the meat) I can have mutton biriyani at any time of the day, in any season.

Oh and I'm very fond of the Southie biriyanis, but those I prefer with chicken.

Trishna Chaudhuri said...

yummmy... me want to go to all those places and eat ...NOW!!! Hmnnn remind me to order biryani from Shamim next weekend.... mouth watering at just the thought....we have to take a trip to lucknow next time you visit ... and eat..eat ..eat....Am suddenly having cravings for RR and Bheemas Andhra chicken biryani .. oh!! god... Wake up husband.... we have to head out now and gorge.. as of now ..Minar G.K. 1 will do....lets try their biryani with the mutton burra as well... gosh..people who read this will think what a mad couple... only thing they can think of is FOOD..... but what to do.. we are like this only!!!!!!

Anil P said...

I'll stick by rice :)

dipali said...

Even though I belong to the strange category of humans called vegetarians
aka ghaas-phoos eaters, I enjoy your
gastronomical adventures:) I guess Veer Sanghvi can opt for an early retirement!

udayan said...

Yesterday's article from your favourite bombay newspaper ... DNA :))

The Udipi joints in bombay are all dying because of predominantly non-veg choices of the young generation.

So you know where this debate is heading ...

Anonymous said...

wow! midnight biryani at green park is something one can't forget. and i don't even eat meat.

-akb

sims said...

Yummy!!..

Differently Challenged said...

I came to your blog via google, and I must say that I am impressed. The posts are eclectic, and I must say that most of what I read is quite good.
Continue Writing..

Dipta Chaudhuri said...

@ Differently Challenged: Thanks. Just curious... what search did you enter in Google that threw up my blog?

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Sir, here via Space Bar's. (Heard of you before, but never quite made it over)

I must take issue with you on some points.
1 - the stuff they serve in South India is more like pulao. Which leads to
2 - biryani is biryani only when cooked the dum pukht way. Otherwise it's pulao. Check out the legend of how it originated during the building of the Bara Imambara in Lucknow

Further nit-picking (sorry, but this is from one foodie to another) - haleem is not made from mince. The beef is marinated, then made into a paste with the daal (all except the bones), then stewed with light spices and sometimes dahi. Served with a sprinkling of chopped mint.
If you're in Cal during Ramzan, my treat - there are at least three good places in the Park Circus area.

J.A.P.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

And oh, PLEASE educate your friend - GARLIC paste in biryani ?!

J.A.P.

Space Bar said...

ah...jap! found you here, as i thought i would! :D

Dipta Chaudhuri said...

@ JAP: *Takes a deep bow*

Rockin'... it finally took a Bong to unravel the deeper intricacies. I just scribbled in a few dominant memories!

Rimi said...

Trust JAP to nitpick before the rest of us get a chance. That ref. to garlic paste made me cringe too. And while I glossed over the minced meat bit (different people cook differently, I thought), he is right again, of course.

Next time you're in Cal, however, I suggest you try the very street appeal of the original Aminia opposite the Nakhoda Masjid -- try their beef bhuna. And for 25 bucks, their biriyani has the most meat:rice ratio too.

Re. Park circus, there is this shop in the gulli alongside Zeeshan (which eatery, incidentally, comes nowhere near my favourite list) -- I forget the name, but it makes excellent burra kababs. Give it a shot :-)

OrangeJammies said...

come, come! hum bambai ki sair karenge! (but something tells me i'll see you in dilli before that)

myriadmind said...

I was trying to remember Arsalan's name and keyed in a fee keywords, and lo i find ur blog.

It would come as a surprise to me if you were not a thorough bred bovine eater.
You missed out Shadab the mecca of the hyderabadi biryani

The point is no Karims/ Paradise/ Arsalan/ Green Park....can match up with with Gosht biryani, whether it is in beckbagan(mithai rd)park circus (mullick bazaar)or chader ghat (hyderbad)

Ki biryani khele bandhu jodi garui na khele...

Remember that mutton and chicken where later entrants to the mughlai cuisine.

For the mussalman, meat begins and ends at the Holy Cow.

reminds me of a friends father who admonished me at his dinner table
"beta chaval mat khao par gosht zaroor khao, aise hi shoiab akhtar nahi bante"

Goofy Mumma said...

In Delhi, there is a place near the old fort, where they make Biryani and Kebabs by order. Its not a shop, but just a couple of huts.Not sure if they still exist, I last visited them more than ten years back, but the stuff is really worth trying, and since you are a big connoisseur of food, you should find out and give it a try!The give it to you in their huge dekchis sealed with atta. The rice- meat ratio is extremely appealing, you just tell them the quantity , like 1kg rice and they do the rest.

kaichu said...

Came here via Rimi's blog, two years down the line :) Moste excellente poste, esp. for those of us languishing in culinarily-challenged phoren shores.

I now live in Gainesville, Florida, where food comes to die in random American eating-chains, but recently (in the last 3 months) there have been the influx of not one but TWO new biriyani places, and praise be god, they are both excellent.

The Afghan Kabob House (!!!) is run by Bangladeshis, and the Kabab house is run by a Pakistani couple, and their biriyani styles are quite distinct. The latter has longer grained rice, more saffron content, is more delicately spiced and drier, and their chicken biriyani beats the mutton hollow any day. And this, coming from a chicken-hater; this is the only chicken biriyani that I can have. Calcutta ones, for example, you cannot get me to touch even when threatened with imaginatively dire consequences.

The Bangladeshi variety here, however, is more bari-like. It uses slightly thicker (I want to say, "blunter") rice, and the biriyani has a more spicy, oily, makho-makho quality to it--it is pretty amazing, esp. the mutton/beef ones, esp. with the meat all tangled up together in the rice. Very hide-and-seek kind, this one. Your fish biriyani sounds kinda like this :)

@Rimi -- darling, you're talking about Nafeel's. Their beef kababs are to DIE for.

Sue said...

JAP (and Dipta) -- I learnt a wonderful Hyderabadi biriyani recipe from a Muslim friend which uses pudina and dhone pata. It sounded the most goshawful combo to me at first but I confess I love it and the raita has made me a convert. I have the recipe on my blog somewhere I know.