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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024


If one were to write about biryani, it would be a never-ending (love) story. Richa Kharshandi explores the love for biryani in the city and provides a glimpse into stories about the dish.

By Richa Kharshandi

When aromatic grains of rice are cooked with marinated mutton, beef, chicken or eggs, you get biryani, the special North Indian dish no one can resist. There is no one tale of the origin of Biryani – one version says that the name is derived from the Persian word Birinj, meaning ‘rice’, while another explains that it came from the term, Biryan, which means, ‘roasted’.

This dish has several varieties in India, which, interestingly, also leads to feuds. Who makes it better – Lucknow, Hyderabad, Kerala or Calcutta? Perhaps, the reason biryani tastes differently in each place.

A long historical tradition has resulted in the evolution of biryani, in its present form. The royal dish landed in the country a few centuries ago and has travelled to different parts of the country. Its global domination is unparalleled. No wonder then that it remains one of the most Googled-dish, not just in India, but the world over.

Biryani is a harmony of different spices, and with its rich aroma, is impossible to miss. Meghalaya too embraced it like one of its own local delicacies. While it was cooked domestically; it became popular commercially some 12-15 years ago. Talking to some chefs here in Shillong, I found out that Calcutta Dum Biryani is almost everyone’s favourite here in the city.

One of the famous biryani places in Shillong is Bade Miyan. Their biryani is prepared by three skilled yet very humble chefs, 45-year-old Md Samsul Alam of Jharkhand, Md Jamil Ahmed (37) from Bihar and Md Alim (48) of Jharkhand.

“I was in Kolkata when I was offered a job here. I have been cooking biryani for the past 15 years,” Alam says, adding how Shillong-ites appreciate the original recipe. A few regular customers eat their biryani every single day.

Both Ahmed and Alam were in Kolkata before arriving in Shillong, where they learned to cook biryani. “We don’t meddle with the original recipe and try to keep it as authentic as possible,” Alam adds. The trio also cooks Hyderabadi biryani occasionally.

We spoke about their special recipe, but understandably; they were reluctant to disclose it. What I got to know was how originally, biryani was teamed up only with mutton. With time, the recipe kept changing.

Lamee Restaurant in Shillong serves its own special biryani – the Chicken Dum Biryani, with a special touch from the head chef. For them, it is not just about the methods or techniques behind preparing their biryani. They consider and serve just one desire, which is “customer satisfaction”.

Different kinds of biryanis are prepared in India. Besides the usual Kolkata, Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad biryanis, there is the Rowther biryani, prepared in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu by the Muslim Rowther (or Rawatar) community from both these states, and said to be descendants of Turkic people, living in the region since the reign of the Cholas. Similarly, Malabari biryani from Kerala has its own essence.

The story of Kolkata biryani, the commonly found biryani in Shillong, carries with it the imprints of colonial rule. The last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, moved to then-Calcutta after the British annexed his kingdom.

Among other elements of Lucknow, he brought royal food. He hosted parties where British officials were among those invited.

In one such gathering, there was a shortage of meat, leading to chaos in the Shahi Bawachi Khaane.

His chefs ingeniously added potatoes and eggs. Not only were the guests satiated and happy, but a new dish was born.

This little twisted tale of biryani is as interesting as the story of our next chef, who, as a child, did not eat biryani. Mohan Bahadur, who is a biryani chef in a city food joint, was offered a job in Kolkata 15 years ago. There he learned to cook several dishes – one being biryani. He used to cook biryani in the absence of the head chef. Presently, Bahadur serves one of the best Calcutta Dum Biryani in the state.

Venturing into the city deeper, I spotted another beautiful restaurant in Shillong. They excel in the royal dish. Mama’s Cafe also serves Calcutta Dum Biryani and, according to the young manager of the restaurant, people absolutely love their biryani.

Speaking of biryani in the city, it’s a crime not to mention Khushboo Biryani, Shillong biryani lovers’ eternal corner. The place is packed almost every evening. The manager, Arshad Khan, told me it was unexpected for them to become such a hit among the locals.

They prepare two handis (a big pot) of biryani every day and he (Khan) swore that on most days they run out before even the day ends.

Besides Calcutta Dum Biryani, the other biryanis available in the city are Hyderabad Biryani and Handi Biryani.

Two Shillong-based celebrities – fashion model, Gargee Nandy, who made it to the top 5 of Femina Miss India and singer-songwriter, Meba Ofilia, shared their love for biryani.

Nandy speaks of her love for biryani. “I love this dish and one of my staples. At present, Bade Miyan prepares a very good biryani. I’ve had different kinds of biryani and Shillong biryani is very different. It’s less spicy.

Meba says, “I’ve occasionally had biryani in South India. Shillong biryani is tweaked a little, though similar to Kolkata biryani.”

Maybe, the story of the biryani’s journey to the “Abode of Clouds” is unknown – for some foodies, that makes for exploration and for others, it’s relishing the dish that is more important. Whatever the case, the growing craze for this dish proves one thing – we all love the dish of nawabs!

(The writer is a senior sub-editor with The Meghalayan)

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