|With the group at Jaffer Bhai|
Here's the thing about me. I am obsessed about biryani. As is probably every other person in India.
In my high school and college days in Kolkata, the only eating out one could managed with some furiously saved pocket money would be a plate of biryani. Since then, biryani has continued to define a special treat for me.
Happiness happened for me in Mumbai, hope K is not reading this, when Kolkata biryani became available here.
I have made it my life's mission to try out as many biryanis as I can (except the oxymoron called veg biryani) and have got to appreciate the genre more. In my recent trip to Punjab I tried two new versions. The Punjabi biryani at Surjit's dhaba which, as Chef Kunal Kapoor explained, is more a mutton curry mixed into rice, pulao than a biryani. The other one was in what Sarhad, near the Waga border, presented as Lahori biryani. This was closer to the Lucknowi versions. The mutton here a lot more tender than in Surjit's.
I have a confession to make. No matter how many biryanis I try, at the end I feel that my Kolkata one is the best.
This, I suspect, is true for everyone when it comes to the biryani they have grown up on. Which is why my mother in law and I have such polar opposite tastes when it comes to biryani.
Last Saturday I met up with a group of food enthusiasts, equally curious about biryani, in front of Paradise Cinema in Mahim, to explore the biryanis available there. Some were newcomers on the walk and some who were here for their umpteenth walk.
We set off down the relatively unsung food streets of Mahim tracing the many renditions of the dish biryani which owes its origin to the Persian rice and meat dish, pilaf.
Our first stop was Kakori House. Years back I had tasted their Lucknowi biryani, when they opened in Bandra, and screamed in delight as I found it to be closer to my beloved Kolkata biryani than the rather raunchy masala doused Bombay biryani. Later I found out that the Kolkata biryani traces its origins to that of Lucknow. The Kakori House in Mahim is a small air conditioned 5 or 6 table place. We had the restaurant to ourselves and chatted over some good Lucknowi biryani and melt in the mouth gulauti kebabs as I reminisced about my trip to Lucknow where I had explored its biryanis and then the gulauti kebabs of Tunday.
|Kakori House gualuti|
|Kakori House mutton biryani|
Next stop was a few yards beside Kakori was Lazeez, the relatively new Mumbai outpost of Shiraz of Kolkata. This too is air conditioned, about the same size as Kakori House though a lot brighter and a tad more crowded whenever I've been there than Kakori House. Here, like a proud son talking of his mother, I spoke about the Kolkata biryani, of how we it owe it to good old Wajid Ali Shah and his love for food which never diminished regardless of what cards life dished to him. And of the potatoes which were added in Kolkata which to us is the soul of our biryani. I nodded approvingly as participants (with some gentle coercing I admit) said that they really loved the Kolkata version of the biryani. We also tried the lovely mutton chaap and rezala here which are standard side dishes with white pillowy tandoori rotis in Kolkata's biryani shops.
|Lazeez kolkata biryani|
|Canvassing for Kolkata biryani|
We then stepped out and walked towards the Paradise side again to a quiet Mahim classic, the very humble, very popular with Malayalis, Keralite restaurant called Sneha. This restaurant is divided into two rooms, no air conditioning in either, tables with very little leg space and huge smiles from Malayalis eating home food. It opens at 7.30 in the morning for breakfast and shuts only at night. Most around us were eating thalis and beef fries. We went for the kappa (tapioca) biryani, possibly the only rice-less biryani around apart from the patrel biryani of Firoz Farsan in Bhendi Bazar. Some Malayalis have told me that this dish is not a 'biryani' but then kappa biryani what both Sneha and Madina next door call this popular Muslim Keralite wedding dish. This is served as a big portion and tough to finish though the beef is very tender. We also tried the mutton biryani and saw how different it was from what we had earlier. Short grained rice unlike in the Lucknowi one and below the layer of rice was a dollop of meat and masala in comparison to the clean brush strokes of rice and meat sans any extra masala in the Lucknow and Kolkata ones. The group noted the difference in form and yet appreciated the dish.
|The Kerala biryani where the short grained rice covers a meat curry|
We then finally walked in the 'walk'. Less than seven minutes or so to our last stop. In between though we stopped at the Mahim Durga. The pulaos were over though it was just 9 pm. We had some haleem off a street cart in the balmy Mumbai winter and I picked up packets of Mahim halva as return gifts for our enthusiastic group.
|haleem at Mahim darga|
The last stop was Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Darbar. Mr Rajjaf (not sure about the name to be honest) the manager made space for us in this slightly bigger than Kakori/ Lazeez, and air conditioned, restaurant. The manager was probably tickled by my comment that he looked and talked like actor Nana Patekar. He is very proud of where he works and claims that Jaffer Bhai's in Grant Road is where the Moghlai food culture of Mumbai had originated. The food in the Mahim outlet comes cooked from the Grant road core kitchen he told us. We ordered mutton and chicken biryanis and he indulgently told the waiter to add extra masala. The very masala for which Mumbai folks like Kunal Vijayakar, Kurush Dalal and my mom in law dote on Jaffer Bhai's and what doesn't work for ex-Kolkatans like me. The Mumbai biryani is possibly the most robust and masala packed of biryanis and very different from the more subtle biryanis of Lucknow and Kolkata. If you like one, you will no like the other versions. Tastes can get quite polarised and I tried to be reasonably neutral though my biases seeped through I suspect.
|With the enthusiastic manager in Jaffer Bhai|
|The Jaffer bhai biryani, extra masala maar ke|
The verdict? Well it was equally split between Lucknowi, Kolkata and Mumbai with some fond mentions of Kerala.
At the end, biryani was the winner.
Now to get ready for my next walk which is in the new year with a South African couple who will be exploring the food scene of Bandra with me.
I tied up with Meal tango for the first time during and the experience was pretty good in terms of the interface and the speed of payments. Saket and Neeta from Meal Tango came for the walk and added to the food love around. They have blogged about their experience on the walk here