The other day I was speaking to a colleague of mine, a Malayali from Mumbai, over lunch.
The topic turned to biryanis somehow and she said "I really like the Calcutta biryani. It's nice and light. Where can we get it here? "
Now, I swear that I hadn't influenced her or had discussed this with her earlier. I have often stated my belief that Calcutta biryani is the best. Felt good to hear the same from a non-Calcuttan too!
I was a bit hard pressed to think of a good Kolkata biryani place in Mumbai. Hangla was sort of passable till Arsalan was launched and reminded us what a good Kolkata biryani can be. I feel that they served a better version here than they did in their Park Circus outlet in Kolkata.
Then Arsalan shut down in Mumbai.
Lazeez, from the house of Shiraz, has opened at Mahim. We have been there a couple of times. Its biryani is slightly greasier than the original Shiraz biryani. They make nice rolls though.
Some of the Bengali caterers like Peetuk and Feeast@East in Mumbai make a decent biryani.
You don't really get a good Kolkata biryani in most of the Bengali restaurants here.
Biryanis places are usually Muslim owned Moghlai places which the Bengali restaurants aren't and hence they possibly lack the innate talent to make a good biryani. Some of them do occasionally hire chefs from Moghlai places.
One such local restaurant sent us a biryani for tasting over the weekend but it didn't work for my former Kolkatan friends and me when we tried it. The rice was dry and flavourless as was the chicken and there was too much of kewra water in it.
There is a simple logic to why small restaurants fail when it comes to biryani I feel.
Biryani in the Moghlai places are cooked in large quantities. There is a certain flavour, aroma and taste which comes in which things are slow cooked in huge quantities together. It is difficult to duplicate this magic when cooking in small quantities. Which is why I never cook biryani at home. In fact our cook Banu has told me the same thing.
A parallel which comes to mind is the bhoger khichudi or khichudi for community Durga or Saraswati pujos. People say that this taste can't be replicated at home. Most attribute this to divine intervention!
However, there is science involved too. In the Bandra Durga Pujo for example, the khichudi is cooked till 8 in the morning and then taken off the flame. From then till about 1 pm, when visitors are served, the khichudi cooks in its own heat. Now that can't happen at home right?
I think it is the same with biryani. Cooking in large quantities is what creates the difference. That doesn't happen in the Bengali restaurants where biryanis are one of orders unlike in Moghlai places where they are the mainstay of the place.
One Bengali restaurant in Mumbai where I have had a fairly nice Kolkata biryani is Calcutta Club at Oshiwara.
Not been there in a couple of years though.
Do check out this link to a post where food experts from different cities in India speak about their favourite biryani places. This is from the India Food Network site of which I am the editor at large. The site is dedicated to the world of Indian food. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to write for us