Seriously, who helped name that on the menu? Chai Tea!
It is like naming your bolognese Noodles Spaghetti. Now, you wouldn’t do that, would you? Then why have Chai Tea on your menu?
Let me explain – tea in the Indian sub-continent, and a few neighbouring countries, is called Chai. Unless, a few restaurants in Dubai really want to “over emphasize” that they serve tea, I feel such naming should be scrapped outright. Yes, “over emphasize” is a moronic expression and completely incorrect, much like “more happier”. As is Chai Tea!
If restaurants serving spiced tea that incorporates cardamom, cinnamon, milk and sugar etc want to highlight that, then it should be called Masala Chai or Masala Tea. Not Chai Tea.
And on behalf of many in the industry of food writing and appreciation, I would issue a warning not to name dishes like mentioned below:
Longitudinally speaking, Dubai is situated on 25 degrees north and that is why this restaurant adopts it as its name. However, to locate the swanky restaurant in Business Bay will take you a good GPS. This Business Bay outlet is the second establishment to open its doors, after the first outlet in Tecom. Plush interiors and warm staff will make you feel welcome to this ‘north Indian delicacy-serving’ restaurant.
My friend Shyam and I submitted to the gastronomic assault that started with some refreshing Jal Zeera (popular Indian summer drink made with cumin, mint and black salts with a descriptor from Wikipedia) and Dahi Bhalla (lentil dumplings in cold yoghurt and sweet tamarind chutney). Good start.
It was followed up by some Watermelon Chat. They need to change the serving plate from the current flat one, as watermelon juice spilled on the table. Also enticing us was the scrumptious spinach fritters or Palak (Pakodey) Chat. This was definitely the star!
Next up was Dahi Kebab (made with hung curd). They looked more like spring roles, as opposed to the traditional medallions, and were a little too ‘bready’.
Chef Ravinder then had some smooth mutton seekh kebabs and chicken malai kebabs sent our way. Those were demolished. With it came Amritsari Fish Tikka. I would have preferred the marinade to be a bit more spicy and not bordering on bland.
Main course featured Dal Palak (lentils with spinach), Kurkurey Bhindi (crispy okra), Paneer Makhni (cottage cheese in sweet buttery tomato gravy), Nalli Nihari (slow cooked lamb / mutton stew) and Kadai Prawns. Am afraid the Kurkurey Bhindi turned out to be Bhindi Pakodey (each okra was batter coated and not fried-till-crisp) and so, totally disappointing. The Kadai Prawns did not match up to the description in the menu. It was rather sweet as opposed to the under-cutting sense of heat. Maybe the sweetness of the red onions were up to foul play. What hit the mark was the Paneer Makhni and to some extent, Nalli Nihari.
I discussed the type of mutton being used with the restaurant manager, who graciously promised to look into it. All this was accompanied with a typical bread basket and some Kashmiri Pulao (replete with pomegranate seeds and dry fruits). There was some piping hot chicken dumpukht biryani served in a seal-able bottle.
Before desserts, we took a small walk, just to rearrange everything. Full marks for crispy jalebis and rabdi! Heavenly! And the rabdi (condensed milk with pitachios and cardamom) was thick and smooth. This was followed by a cocktail glass filled with ice-cream, chocolate sauce and tiny gulab jamuns swimming in them.
Biryani – a name that conjures up a picture perhaps more luscious than any other stereotype possible. Stay with me on this word – BIRYANI – and you can almost smell the multi-hued, aromatic rice, feel the soft and tender meat, and see a subtle riot of historical gastronomy on the plate. See what biryani does to you!
I think biryani is a global cultural connector. You get biryani’s everywhere. You do not go wrong with a biryani party. Everybody has an idea of what a biryani should taste like. Much before the Ray Krocs of the world took over with breads and processed chicken, the world was already annexed by this simple rice and meat dish.
Talking about biryani is like discussing history and current affairs in one go. So I decided to take the help of my chef-friend and culinary consultant to a huge local group Ankur Chakraborty. We met to discuss this over books and hand-written notes. We decided to keep away from the real thing lest we go astray.
Historically speaking, this dish travelled from Iran to the sub-continent, picking up many things on the way and adding to its list of fabled taste. There is a lot to thank the Mughals for, including biryani. Associating biryanis to royal kitchens happened later. Biryani started as a poor man’s dish – think of it – it was an all-in-one pot dish; replete with the right amounts of carbs and proteins. It rose to the ranks of culinary royalty when premium ingredients started being used namely spices like saffron, cardamom and the best cuts of meat. Quality of rice makes a huge difference. Often garnishes consisting of gold or silver leafing added to the stature of this dish. And so biryanis became synonymous for royal dining and feasting, so much so that it tastes ‘different’ if served lackadaisically. Like wine, a biryani needs to be presented in the cradle of opulent tableware; nothing else would do.
Then there is the debate between a biryani and a pulao. Are they the same? Or do they battle for a higher rank depending on geographical region? Ankur explains the 2 as what pulao is to sedan, biryani is to sports car. To translate that, remember what we were taught in school – a rectangle is a square but a square is not a rectangle? OK, wiping the grin off, I would say what makes a biryani is the quintessential layering of rice and meats. The first and last layer in the pot needs to be rice.
India, alone, boasts of the largest kinds of biryani that can be found on earth. This is by no means the complete biryani works. Just scratching the bottom of the earthen pot. Ok, so, let’s wag off the ones that we know:
The Hyderabadi biryani, believed by purists to be the only biryani by culinary DNA, is pretty high on aromatics.
The Awadhi (or the Lucknowi) biryani is richer because of saffron, dry fruits and meat caramelisation. This biryani is ‘assembled’ – the rice and meat is cooked separately and then layered together for a ‘dum’ (steam-cooking).
The Nawabs of Lucknow took shelter in Bengal when displaced and that gave birth to the Calcutta biryani. At first fans will swear by a butter-soft potato and a whole boiled egg that is there in the biryani, the other difference being in the rice used, called Sella.
Then there are biryanis that are very native to cultures, communities and agricultural practices. The Thalessari Kerala biryani made of Khaima rice that is grown in the region.
The Tamil Muslims of Vellore cook up the Vaniyambari biryani that is ‘meatier’ than the usual ratio of meat in a biryani.
The Sindhi biryani is usually higher on the tangy side as they use more tomatoes.
Their community neighbours, the Memoni biryani goes easy on the tomatoes and food colour.
The Kannada Muslims swear by the Beary biryani, that is lighter but the process of cooking is similar to the Lucknowi biryani.
Then you have a Bohri biryani, Kashmiri’s have their version called the Yakhni biryani, the tribal North East parts of India has their version of biryani using mustard leaves and ‘bur’ or rice wine.
Internationally, am sure, you would have tasted or seen the ‘rice and meat’ dish albeit with different names like ‘Kabsa’ or ‘Mandi’ in the Middle East, The ‘Dan Pauk’ from Burma, the ‘Khao Mak’ from Thailand and ‘Zereshk Pulao’ from Iran. It would be ticklish to know that the Mediterranean dish ‘Paella’ also finds place in the biryani clan.
So, to close, biryani is not just a simple rice and meat dish. It is much more than that. The key to it all is the savour the flavour.
I am listing out a few good places for biryani. Feel free to add on your choices in the comments section. Here are my top 5 casual dining restaurants for biryani in Dubai:
Gazebo – multiple locations, multiple biryani options. They do not usually go wrong with their biryanis.
Appa Kadai – I love their Chettinad and Hyderabadi versions.
Pak Liyari (Naif, Deira) – for what it was worth braving the traffic and finding a table to eat, the tasty biryani soothed all troubles away
Student Biryani – tasty but very oily
Biryani Pot at Dubai Mall – hate biryanis served in food courts. This one stood out!
This is Ankur’s top 5 fine-dine biryani destinations in Dubai:
Rang Mahal by Atul Kochar – for Hyderabadi Gosht ki Biryani
Ashiana by Vineet Bhatia (Sheraton Creek Deira) – Kolambi Bhat: it’s a seafood and scallops with coconut rice preparation in a biryani style
Ushna’s Abu Dhabi (Qaryat Al Beri) – Jumbo prawn biryani
Qureshi’s at Country Club Dubai – dum gosht biryani!
Indigo (Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi) – tandoori prawns biryani
I am a little skeptical when ‘desi’ (read Indian) restaurants in Dubai claim themselves to be ‘authentic’. The poor adjective has been as abused as french fries. Let’s face it, it will be a little difficult to con a ‘desi’ boy with the same tomato-based gravy. So, when another new restaurant launches itself, stressing on how authentic they are, I usually take it with a bag of salt!
Then along came yet another restaurant that proclaimed to be as authentic as it gets. It was called Q’s Cuisine. Honestly, I was rather suspicious with a name like that serving traditional Awadhi dishes. Deeper inspection revealed that Q stood for Qureshi – the family that made Awadhi cuisine popular. That, was the decider! The ‘shortening’ of name was probably to make it more ‘sticky’ in consumers’ heads. Their claim to fame were recipes that were tasted by the royal palettes of the Nawabs of Oud or Awadh (modern-day Lucknow in India). Now that is a strong claim to make, something that only be approved by the taste buds. Me (and my radio team) were graciously invited over for a food-tasting at the restaurant.
The newly opened outlet is near Lamcy Plaza, next to Spinney’s. The exterior looked dark, by design interspersed by burnt amber, maybe to denote the colour of burning embers. The interiors carried on the amber theme with some flowery wood-work, comfortable seating and pleasing music (not live music, thank god).
I must say that we felt at home with everybody serving with a smile. While we were warming up with ‘papad’ and mint chutney, I was planning my marking scheme. You see, the menu served in any decent restaurant is no less than an answer sheet in university. You need to set the limits to check.
Parameter 1: Check for Kebabs. This is probably the easiest mainstay for most desi restaurants. And while mentioning kebabs, I settle for the ‘Gilawati’ Kebab. This is a specialty that comes from Awadh. History has it that the Nawab had weak teeth but a strong desire to have meats. The royal chef came up with this innovation that still rules the list of kebabs. So, these kebabs are made of tenderised mince meat, so soft that they bruise at the slightest touch. The mince is a beautiful mix of spices like green cardamom and the unmistakable saffron or ‘zafran’. In Dubai, there is only one other restaurant where I have my fill of ‘Gilawati’ kebabs. It was now time to see, if their kebabs had that special binding.
The Gilawati roundels were served on mini flat breads (as is customary). It smelled great. Fried to perfection. A slight flick of the fork bruised the kebab beautifully. The mince was a wondrous silky mix of the finest meat, spices and the right amount of saffron. ‘Melts in the mouth’ gained the right meaning with the G-kebabs served at Q’s Cuisine.
The other kebabs doing the round were certainly A-listers but the Gilawati was exquisite. Makhmali Murgh Kebab (tender pieces of chicken marinated in spiced up curd) definitely shone through. Kakori Kebabs made a special appearance but it could not shake my loyalti for the G-Kebabs! There are kebab options aplenty for the vegetarian diner. A must-try is the ‘Ashrafee’ or coin. Small coin shaped patties of sweet corn and cottage cheese and herbs make for a flavourful beginning. There also was Dahi Kebab – a tough preparation made from hung curd. I have had better dahi kebabs, although this wasn’t bad at all.
Kebabs done, I was ready for the main course. Of all the pots and baskets that were kept in front of me and my team, I made a quick dash for the Dal Bukhara.
Parameter 2: I always judge a restaurant (or a homely kitchen for that matter) by the lentils they make. The simplest is often the toughest. And then again, the Dal Bukhara wasn’t the easiest of things to prepare. It is often labelled, inter-changeably as Dal Makhni. They are not the same. Black lentils, cooked for long hours over a slow fire and served with a generous swirl of cream is an undying favourite for the discerning North Indian diner. The Dal Bukhara is the Afghani touch to the recipe that uses a certain type of lentil called ‘urad’. Dal Makhni uses 50% of urad along with red kidney beans and Chana Dal (split Bengal Gram). Right, end of class! The dal is on the plate now!
I couldn’t speak for sometime. That was when, the warm, thick Dal Bukhara was oozing inside my mouth. Totally warms your heart! And for those who have had the same in India or Pakistan, would be happily wallowing in memories of ‘that’ dal back home! Bulls-eye!
What came next was the delicate but arduous mutton ‘Nihari’. No classes here, but a deep satisfaction when you relish the fine textured gravy! Mmmm! Tender pieces of ample mutton on the bone served with piping hot baskets of roti! Bliss!
One must mention that me and my 7-man army were happily stuffed. We were not hungry but it was tough for us all to stop the momentum of our hands going to our mouths. It was here that a big pot of ‘Kachchey Gosht Ki Biryani’ or tender mutton biryani was circulated. Mildly spiced fragrant rice with tender pieces of mutton cooked to perfection is well recommended.
We started trooping out when we were called back! A few thought they had to ‘do the dishes’. Truth be told, the smiling army serving us said that dinner was incomplete without dessert!!! We settled like well-fed cats on our chairs, as pots of ‘Firni’ (rice pudding with saffron, cardamom and nuts) were served to us. For those that know, this is a sweet that is humble, compared to some famous and showy varieties of dessert but when well made, could defeat any glitzy, preposterous sweetmeats. Arguable, the best ‘Firni’ in Dubai!
They say, the mark of good food is when it shuts you up naturally. Smile on our faces, me and my team walked out of Q’s Cuisine like pregnant penguins!
Truly, the soul of Awadh in the heart of Dubai!
In case you want to swing by or order over phone, you can call 04 388 5052.