'Medium raw'. Arsalan biriyani, Park Circus Calcutta

I landed at Calcutta this morning. I felt ten years younger. Nothing had changed. Except you had to control your bladder even longer with the crowds and just one loo in the arrival lounge. A dirty, stinky one. And the pre-paid cab scene had become even worse. I reached the end of the queue to find the guys at the counter chatting with each other. After five minutes of persistent questioning one of them looked at us and said that cabs were over. We were allotted cabs a while later. And then the small petty scams began. The old one of a guy who would say he is unemployed and would want to drag your trolley to the taxi stand. And a new scam. The cabs are not located near the taxi stand now. A helpful soul would offer to go an locate your cab. This time I had no option. Cost, a paltry but unnecessary ten Rupees. And we wonder why India lags behind the Far Eastern countries on tourism.

My hassled tourist state finally ended when I had lunch at home. Mom had made matha diye daal (dal with fish head), begun (aubergine) bhaja, fish kaalia, gobindo bhoger chaal (the favoured rice of Bongs) and bori bhaaja.

I finished my work earlier than I thought I would in the evening. I was headed home when I suddenly passed by Arsalan. Arsalan is a Muslim restaurant which became popular in what I call the A K years. When I come to Calcutta I normally head to Nizam or Zeeshan for biriyani even if Shiraz and Aminia might not be accessible. Or Bedwin if I am in the South. but everyone I know starting from my younger brother to people who have moved to Calcutta talk about Arsalan and its biriyani. So I wanted to know what was so special about it. I was supposed to have dinner at home but thought that a little pre dinner wouldn't hurt.

I walked in. The place was packed. The burgeoning crowds testimony of its popularity. I am embarrassed to say that I gave the non AC section a miss and went up to the cooler climes of the AC section upstairs. Its very hot at Calcutta right now. Anything I wear gets soaked in sweat in two minutes.

I went up and ordered 'the usual'. Chicken biriyani and chicken chaap. I noticed that the table mat had a smart note on Awadhi and Lukcnowi cusisine. A modern corporate touch which seemed alien to the world of pre-independence days Muslim restaurants in Calcutta. I later asked the gentleman at the counter about the age of the restaurant. 'Nine years,' he said and proudly continued, 'we will finish a decade soon'. That explained everyhting. The Good. The bad. The biriyani.

Phtographs done, I tasted the chaap first. I loved the grainy texture of the masala on the chicken. The picture of the pan below is the vessel in which they make chaaps at such restaurants. The good part was that they gave me chicken legs on request. The changing face of a more service oriented Calcutta?

The chicken in the chaap was tender. The masala interesting but had a strange, near curdled, dairy taste to it which I wouldn't associate with the chaaps in my memory.

I then tried the biriyani. I was a bit suspicious as I dug in through the rice with a fork and saw a thin film of gravy. The presence of gravy in biriyani is what we Calcuttans berate Mumbai about. I took my first bite.

My usual reaction to a good Calcutta biriyani is to widen my eyes in joy as my eyebrows shoot up. Nothing happened today. My first reaction was, 'what's all the fuss about'. Like the chaap the biriyani too didn't live up to my taste memories. I prefer the one at the humble Hangla of Bandra more thanthis. The biriyani here didn't have the understated flavour and very mild sweetness of a proper Calcutta biriyani. It lacked fragrance and finesse. And a boiled egg.

I am sorry youngsters but the biriyani at Arsalan is not Calcutta biriyani. And Kakori House at Bandra, Mumbai, does a far better Lucknowi biriyani.

The way I see it, Arsalan biriyani is to Calcutta biriyani what Bryan Adams is to rock music. 

Note: AK is 'After Knife'. I wrote this post sitting at my original study table. Used to be my da;s and then my borther's.


See you did the Arsalan Biryani without me :(

Sorry to hear the gravy-in-biryani and the curdled taste of the chaNp. May be the Jr. Sous was on leave. I swear it wasn't the gravy in Biryani the last time I tried it !

As for the missing Egg, I think you need to ask for egg it is optional.

Try Zeeshan, or Royal (Chitpur Rd.) if you have time !
Sassy Fork said…
What pictures!!! Looks so delicious!
But like you said earlier,consistency is difficult to find in restaurants.
Worth a visit to re-confirm!:D
The Bride said…
The golden rule of travelling by air in India... use the loo on the flight before you get off so you don't have to use the aiport ones. Though the ones in Bombay have improved I think.

Now I want biryani! Any will do.

PS: Hey, don't knock Bryan Adams!
Anonymous said…
Sad to know Arsalan has dropped their biryani standards.:( They used to do a decent biryani when we were in college. I remembering us coming all the way from JU just to have their biryani for lunch.

Love your blog by the way. I tend to read it everyday before lunch as an appetizer. :)

Ushnish Ghosh said…
Dear Kalyan
You made my day. Nice to hear that there are people to hold your trolley or locate your taxi, which may cost 2 to 5 bugs or even nothing !!!
Thank God this Restaurant didnot exist 10 years back or in 1960s to 80s.
Actually in Calcutta you only get calcutta dishes ( different from Bong dishes) and not those Audh or frontier dishes. 100s of years back many recipes ( including the famous Malai curry of Malaysia) came to Calcutta from various parts of the world and India too, Thanks to " Cal being the British capital" and all hell broke lose to please the Britishers by the new class , "the elite ones of Cal", So came new cuisines, infused, Bagan BaDi,Mujra and all.
And we were gifted with a new class of recipe : "The Calcutta recipes"..nothing to do with typical Bong ones of those days...
No more lecture please buy this book and read " Calcutta Cook book" by Penguin..you will enjoy reading the history of Cal dishes and cooking the recipes too.
The beauty of Cal is, in most restaurants ( people's restaurant and not the elite ones) you get diff taste every day because the dish might have been cooked by the main Chef or his helper....
If you are still in Cal try at Royal ( as suggested above).
I shall try to give a Biryani recipe, if you can vaguely remember the resturant or the region you ate in,
Or pester lavanya to cook my famous Reshmi Biriyani without onion garlic or I will post the recipe when I cook it.
Thanks for this nice article and best wishes
Scarlett said…
First of all, I'd just like to clarify that when you say "people who've recently moved to Calcutta rave about Arsalan biryani", you don't mean me. I don't like Calcutta biryani, Arsalan or not :)

Having said that, I'm very surprised at the kind of biryani you've described. This is something new they've started! People at work order biryani from Arsalan all the time, and it's typical Cal biryani!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Ghosh kaku, sorry for the late recvert and thank you so much for the rich well of info. Fascinating. Malai curry does taste similar to Malay curries now that you mention it. Specially the Curry Mee that i had at Penang

@New kid: Royal has aroused my interest. Zeeshan is an old friend. used to work next door for
a while

@Sassy Fork, i have my favourites and am impatient when i go to cal as i have to spread out my meals carefully. Doubt if i would return

@Scarlett: well i did have you in mind :)
Anonymous said…
I just made my first trip to Calcutta and was spirited away by Bengali friends to Arsalan for Chicken Chaap and Mutton Biryani - I found it life changing. The mutton was tender and flavorful without the slightest hint of whiff from the goat whence it came. The whole hard boiled egg was tucked inside like a golden surprise. The Chicken was amazing. We got kabobs as starters. Add onions, green chilis and wash it all down with copious amounts of Thumbs Up. A memorable experience that put a culinary crown on my Calcutta stay-over. Though, truth be told, the meal I had at my friends' house, prepared by his mother, was even better. Bengalis are my kind of people, love food, drink, sweets and conversation - in large portions!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
I have always wondered why defences of restaurants which have been criticised are anonymous
Sachinky said…
The biryani at Arsalan is okay but I don't like the chaap at all. Has this odd sour-sweet taste. I prefer Zeeshan and/or Shiraz. I always get the chicken chaap and mutton biryani. And a parantha.
s amit said…
Biriyani at Arsalan as you have rightly put it is not authentic " Calcutta Biriyani".For me its Shiraaz at Park Circus any time. But you should try out the Arsala Special Kebab next time....pure bliss.And for the adventurous type who believe in keeping no stone unturned in search of good food ,its " Boudi's Biriyani" @ Barrackpore near to Deesha Eye Hospital.Believe me or not, till this outlet has even a plate left to sell the neighbouring biriyani shop doesnot open its innings.Mind blowing !!!
Anonymous said…
Sorry you must have gone on a bad day.. The biryani I had 3 weeks ago there was brilliant. I am a cook myself and pride myself on making this dish, particularly Kachhi Biryani. The spicing was just correct as was the salt and the temperature too was just right. Don't know about the chaanp, didn't try it on this occasion. Bandra biryani sucks bigtime - Lokhandwala biryani ala calcutta club and hanglas is too sweet and overpriced for what you get. sorry just my opinion...

Anonymous said…
Please try "Dada boudi's biriyani" I think it has been mentioned above. It is awesome. I had it flown to me by an airplane when I was in Bangalore and I was craving biriyani by a person flying from Calcutta. Too bad now i am so far away that I can't even have that done anymore. :)
Jaya M said…
We have eaten Arsalan Biryani many a times but never had this gravy thing..something new here for me..anyways for me also Biryani means arsalan/rehmania type biryani as rock music is like listening to Bryan Adams or Guns n Roses :-D..
Bang on! Arsalan *used to* be good, in fact, very, very good. They had the best chaanp-biryani compatibility. But its been a downhill ever since it started becoming popular. Now it has got a franchisee everywhere, and the quality has drastically gone down. Shiraz represents Calcutta Biryani in all its glory, not Arsalan. The rice is much cleaner, separate, subtler, classier. They have diluted the Calcutta biryani taste. I find Bedwin better in some aspects actually. And I have always felt its kinda underrated. Shiraz, by the way has revamped itself quite fabulously, which I am suspecting, was triggered by Arsalan's meteoric rise.
Anonymous said…
MR Kalyan

Nice english and photographs to support your review, but I am sorry to say that you failed in the taste part...I am a great foodie and I visited almost all counters of biriyani in Kolkata including road side Hari's. Arsalan's Biriyani is unmatched and I didnt found any biriyani near to their taste. Royal's Biriyani near Nakhoda Masjid and Asma's beef biriyani at Baruipur is a bit nearby but Arsalan is way ahead. I hope you ordered some flavoured biriyani which you disliked...I was also tasted Biriyani's at Mumbai...they are worst with onion curry inside.

And for other readers dont worry guys Arsalan didnt reduced their quality and also comes with a soft piece of meat specally mutton. You will also get egg and 2 pcs of meat in special biriyani. Dont try any flavoured biriyanis just go for the normal one. Kababs are also great specially Kakori kababs and Arsalan Special Kabab wrapped with Cheese. Also try Mutton stew, mutton chap,fish tandoori.

And last but not the least even people from land of Biriyanis praised arsalans biriyani, they are Pakistan Cricket team. Specially Shoib Akhtar who is very much fond of Arslans Biriyani.

Kalyan Karmakar said…
i think Shiraz is definitely the best of what I have had in Calcutta of late. Nizam wasn't too bad though
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Nice shill. Well i have put the pic of the biryani that I had there but yes Arsalan has a number of biryani formats. Since then, Arsalan has opened in Mumbai and I order from it at least twice a week or call in. I feel that the Arsalan in Khar, Mumbai, has better stuff than Park Street
Anonymous said…
Arsalan is the best biryani maker in kolkata.
Soumya said…
I saw some middle aged and old people have this weird tendency of criticizing anything new. Be it Rabidranath or Kishore Kumar or food. Criticism of the present doesn't in any way makes the past more glorious. Rather patronizing the new trends truly shows how good our past was. Glorifies our heritage.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
also tastes change across generations...two people don't have the same taste in food