Tag Archives: India

Biryani – man’s best recipe yet!

Recipe elevated to befit kings
Recipe raised to befit kings

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!

Biryani is a global connector
Biryani is a global connector

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.

Chef Ankur Chakraborty
Chef Ankur Chakraborty

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:

  1. Gazebo – multiple locations, multiple biryani options. They do not usually go wrong with their biryanis.
  2. Appa Kadai – I love their Chettinad and Hyderabadi versions.
  3. 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
  4. Student Biryani – tasty but very oily
  5. 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:

  1. Rang Mahal by Atul Kochar – for Hyderabadi Gosht ki Biryani
  2. Ashiana by Vineet Bhatia (Sheraton Creek Deira) – Kolambi Bhat: it’s a seafood and scallops with coconut rice preparation in a biryani style
  3. Ushna’s Abu Dhabi (Qaryat Al Beri) – Jumbo prawn biryani
  4. Qureshi’s at Country Club Dubai – dum gosht biryani!
  5. Indigo (Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi) – tandoori prawns biryani
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Of Burps and Belches

A lot has been philosophised on burping and belching. Some have postulated on why it is better than their nether cousin. In fact, I noticed a cultural connection about this natural phenomenon in the movie Ben Hur when Ben-Hur had to burp to show courtesy to his host.

In the far East, in China and Japan, it is considered table manners to burp to show how excellent the food was. Not sure if this is what is done in fine dine restaurants there.

Such is the case in a few European and sub-Saharan countries, as well. Burping is a sign of satisfaction. You had your food, and you loved it as well.

In India, burping is as natural as monsoons. You may burp before or after your meal and nobody would really care. Unless your burp sounds like the creaking of an un-oiled iron gate, you are welcome to belch all you want.

There was another aspect to burping when I first held my little one and had to pat him to get him to burp. As a first-time father, I didn’t know what a ‘baby burp’ sounded like, so I did take help from the nurse at hand. Gosh, and the sound that came from my little one tickled me no end. I would wait for him to finish feeding so I could help him burp!

While burping is considered to be courtesy in many places, it is also taken to be a sign of uncivilised, uncouth mannerism. To burp and not to excuse yourself is perhaps a greater sin! In a very strange way, it is considered unfitting of a woman to show her sign of satisfaction!

Whatever (and however) you enjoy your burp, truth is that a burp is a reminder of your last meal. Make it count! 🙂

#Burp&Belch

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Ode to the Humble Kathi Roll

Most South Asians, especially from the sub-continent, will know the pleasure of sinking their teeth into a hot and juicy ‘kathi’ roll! It is a unique preparation that is something in the middle of a starter and main course. And while on the subject, this needs to stated that the best ‘kathi’ rolls are the ones that are made by the street-side vendors.

Let me into the simplicity of this humble ‘kathi’ roll. A toasted flatbread is the base. No inter-continental cousins like burritos can substitute the flatbread. In India and Pakistan, it is called ‘parantha’. So, while the flatbread is being toasted, an egg is beaten well with some salt and chilly. A splash of oil, throw in the egg emulsion and as soon as you see the egg firming up like an omelette, place the flatbread on the semi-liquid egg. Flip it over, a couple of times and take it off the heat. Chopped onions, salt, pepper, squeeze of lemon and chilly sauce rolled into the egg ‘kathi’ roll. That, my friend, is the quintessential ‘kathi’ roll.

Varieties are also available. Egg. Mutton. Chicken. Egg Mutton. Egg Chicken. Double Egg. Double Egg Chicken. Double Egg Mutton. Here, take the tissue and wipe that drool off. Oh, I haven’t mentioned any vegetarian options as they just simply don’t qualify as a ‘kathi’roll. Apologies, veggies.

I have seen enough of those being made. I can visually tell if a certain roll will be carry the right DNA of a Calcutta ‘kathi’ roll. I have tasted some delectable rolls on the roadsides of Kolkata and Delhi. I know the imposters as well. They never will see me as a repeat customer.

My search for that delicious ‘kathi’ roll took me to Shiraz Golden Restaurant. The name can be a little misleading – it has nothing to do with the Iranian city, or wine. Shiraz in Bur Dubai serves Awadhi food – food that was native to the royal kitchens of the Nawabs of Awadh or Oudh during the British Raj in India, specially during the life and times of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.  Well, the man certainly had good taste in food. No wonder that those recipes are now a hand-me-down reality for food buffs like me. Shiraz originally opened up in Calcutta, India’s gourmet capital. This is their second and first international outlet.

I need to clarify, that I work on a simple principle when it comes to food. If the simple can me made in a lip-smacking way then the exotic dishes are worthy of a try. And a Kolkata food joint needs to be taste-tested by asking for the ‘kathi’ roll.

As I hungrily tore off the tissue, I could tell that this ‘kathi’ certainly was rich with promise. The first bite in it certified that it was a thorough-bred ‘kathi’ roll. Ah! The pleasure of the crumbly exterior that holds a fluffy egg; wafting with the smell of the green chilly and chilly sauce.

Shiraz certainly passed the ‘kathi’ roll test. And now, for over a year, I have been a regular and a loyal customer; using it as a venue to catch up with friends. And whatever be ordered from the menu – be it the Awadhi biryani, or chicken chaap or the mutton rezala, it all starts with the ‘kathi’ roll!

5 burps on the Burp-o-meter!