|Pulao at the Mahim Darga gulley|
I am always wary of giving people biryani recommendations.
I remember my first Mumbai biryani experience when, like countless other Kolkatans, I decried it to be ‘mangshor jhol bhaat’ (curry rice). Since then I have had countless biryanis in the biryani capitals of India, Lucknow and Hyderabad. I have tried the Andhra and Tamil Ambur versions in Bangalore and the Keralite and Punjabi ones in Mumbai and realized that the biryani one gets in Kolkata is not the only type of biryani available. A bit like the US where ‘pizzas’ could take completely different forms based on whether they are thin crust ones from NYC, deep dish ones from Chicago or fusion ones from California.
Food writers such as Lizzie Collingham and Chitrita Banerji have written about how biryani is a dish which owes its origins to the Persian meat and rice dish, pilaf, which the Mughals brought with them to India. That in India this was a part of the royal kitchens of Delhi and then took two different paths. One to Lucknow, close to Delhi, and the other to Hyderabad in the South. The dish that emerged, the biryani, was influenced by rice dishes served in India then which used to be a lot spicier. Which is possibly why, the further South you go – Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kerala, Andhra – the more biryani gets spicier.
On the other hand, the biryani of Lucknow is not as spicy and masala laden as that of the South and is closer to the pulao. One gets versions of the original pilaf in Delhi where it is called Moradabadi pulao and in Mumbai’s Bohri Mohalla and Mahim, where it is called Delhi pulao.
Ironically, while biryani owes its origins to the Persian pulao, the Parsis of Mumbai don’t really have a special biryani. Their celebratory dish remains the pualo daal.
|Lucknowi Kofta biryani at Kakori House|
The Lucknow biryani story didn’t end in Lucknow though. When Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was exiled from Luknow to Delhi he took his royal cooks with him as a part of his entourage. The cooks had to make do with limited financial resources and yet feed the exiled noble’s court. The biryani that emerged was less rich, had less of meat and ghee and saffron, which were expensive. The then recently introduced to India, the relatively cheaper potato, was added to make up for the reduced portions of meat. Thus emerged the Kolkata biryani whose soul, many of its loyalists, say lie in the potato.
|Kolkata biryani at Lazeez|
One key difference in the Lucknowi and the Hyderbadi style of the biryani is that the meat in the Hyderabadi one is cooked along with the rice (hence the term ‘kachhi gosht ke biryani’). In the Lucknowi and Kolkata styles the meat is cooked separately and added in to the rice.
Over the years I’ve learnt not to judge people on their biryani tastes. I have realized that one’s preferences in biryani are moulded strongly by what one has grow up on. I, for example, just cannot settle for any other biryani so strong are my affiliations to the Kolkata biryani that I have grown up on. The reason, I suspect, why Chitrita Banerji says the Avadhi version of Lucknow is superior to the one of Hyderabad in her book, Eating India.
The thing about Mumbai is that the city is a melting pot of cultures. It doesn’t allow you to remain insular. It challenges you to open your eyes to new possibilities. One of the recent fall outs of this is that one gets an opportunity to taste a multitude of biryanis from across India in Mumbai.
One of the best places to do so is the relatively unsung Mumbai food district of Mahim causeway in the area around the Mahim Darga (mosque). There are quite a few old restaurants here and loads of Muslim street food (kebabs, channa with offal, pulao, halva) on offer near the Darga yet Mahim never got the iconic status of a Mohammed Ali Road, the hot spot of Mumbai for Muslim street food. The Mahim Darga area got a fillip recently with the introduction of new restaurants here from the local Chinese favourite 5 Spice to restaurants dishing Mughlai fare from Lucknow and even Kolkata.
Which is why Mahim seems to be the perfect spot to do a biryani walk in Mumbai. One gets a variety of biryanis here from across India. Mahim is a good place to try them all and compare tasting notes. When the rice gets too much one can take a break with some Lucknowi gulavti kebabs, Kolkata rolls or Keralite beef fry. The perfect evening for those who love their biryani and are obsessed about it or for those who want to know more about it.
Here’s what is on offer in Mahim. We can try Lucknowi biryani which defines the biryani of the North. We can then compare this with Kolkata biryani which evolved from Lucknowi biryani and look for the common DNA. We can experience a comparatively unheralded biryani, the Keralite biryani. While not as well known as the biryanis of Lucknow and Hyderabad, Keralite biryani is represented in Mumbai through hidden pockets of small Keralite eating houses. In case you thought biryani is a rice dish then challenge your preconceptions with the Keralite beef kappa biryani which is made with tapioca as they base and not rice. A favourite in Keralite weddings.
|Keralite Kappa biryani at Sneha|
Mahim and its street food stalls also give you a chance to taste pulao to which biryani owes its origins. Are they really that different is a question our tastings will try to answer.
|Pulao outside Mahim Darga|
While you don’t get a Hyderabadi biryani yet in Mahim (Golconda Bowl in Juhu is a good option) you can taste the quintessential Mumbai biryani biryani here. Some say that the roots of Mumbai’s biryani lie in those of Hyderabad. Having tried both I feel that the Mumbai one is a lot more masala power packed in comparison to that of Hyderabad. Plus the Mumbai biryani often has some small pieces of potato in it.
|Mutton biryani at Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Durbar|
What the Finely Chopped biryani walk will allow one to do is try out the various biryanis popular in India in one evening and try to get a more rounded appreciation of this iconic Indian dish.
The Mahim biryani walk is one of unabashed eating with very little walking. It is not for those on a diet. Biryani, and Muslim food, as a genre is meat heavy though one can get options for vegetarians but not at all the stops.
Biryani, as dish, has moved to the royal courts to the masses. Today it is soul food for the whole of India. A dish that unites all. The iconic biryani restaurants of Lucknow, Hyderabad, Kolkata and even Mumbai are all places for serious eating. Places to eat your fill and move on. They don’t really focus on ambience and the ‘experience’ is supposed to come from the food and not the trappings around it. The biryani joints of Mahim follow in this tradition. Most are pretty small, a reflection of Mumbai’s expensive real estate, some even non- airconditoned, and some, mere street food stalls. So this walk is for those for whom food comes before all. This is a walk for those seeking comfort food and not comfort while eating. So don’t expect fine dining here. What you can expect though is an insight into biryani, a dish that unites India.
So here are the details of the Mahim Biryani Finely Chopped Walk.
Date: 20th December, 2014
Time: 7.30 pm to 10.00 pm
Location: Mahim Causeway. Start point: Paradise Cinema
Inclusions: 4 to 5 food stops covering restaurants such as Sneha, Shiraz, Kakori House, Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar and the Mahim Darga street food stalls. Food covered will include a range of biryanis and some Muslim street food dishes such as kebabs, rolls, offal. Beef will be served on the walk but mutton (goat meat) options available for those who want to avoid it. Chicken will be ordered only on special request as it is not traditional to biryani. Vegetarian options are possible in the biryanis but not for the street food and this is essentially a non-vegetarian walk.
Price: Rs 2,500 per head inclusive of tastings.
Write in at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @finelychopped or write to me at the Finely Chopped Facebook page if you want to join. Looking forward to seeing you there
The following are the links to:
My article in the TOI Crest Edition on biryani
My post on the biryanis of Kolkata
My post on the biryanis of Lucknow
My post on the biryanis of Hyderabad