Meat is good... Mutton biriyani & chicken chaap at Debjan Apartment's Nobomi Feast

The best thing about being Bengali is that we are reasonably non fussed about rituals. Plus we are genetically engineered to give food the importance it deserves. Eating is a big part of our festivities. And none of that vegetarian hypocrisy here. We are legally allowed to eat mutton, the heathen chicken and fish. And they form part of our customs too. Beef is banned to Hindus, pork considered unclean.  Many Bengalis  rebel and eat these but you won't get them at social or religious occasions.  

Still, this is different from communities which eat meals in whose preparation animals were hurt and yet keep their festivities limited to foliage and dairy products. We are proud of what we eat. So you will get mutton, chicken, fish and prawns served at our weddings, Annoprashans or rice eating ceremonies too. Large rohu fish are gifted by both sides of a traditional wedding and the period of mourning after death is broken  (Niyom Bhongo) by serving fish.

Ashtami, THE biggest day of the Pujas is of course vegetarian. The rice and daal based khichudi being its focus.  Then there are Durga Puja days which have non vegetarian themes to the community feasts. Nabami, or the second last day, is traditionally a fish day. Doshomi, or the last day, a mutton day.

They took a break from tradition this year at the Durga Puja at Debjan Apartments, Kolkata. It was the twenty fifth anniversary of the Puja. There was complimentary lunch for all the residents. Biriyani and chaap. Guests had to pay. I asked my mother if I qualified as a 'resident more than a decade away from home. She cryptically told me "depends on how you see yourself". Well I was there from year one of the Pujos.

I licked my chops in anticipation on Nobomi day. Saw and smelt the biriyani and chaap as the cooks created magic in the make-shift kitchen. Went to South City with my mom. Their food court opens only at eleven. The Coffee Day even later. I get menopausal without breakfast and my mom had to bear the brunt.

I was home in time to catch the end of the Nobomi Puja. If Anjali is the high point of Ashtami then the Joggo (sacrifice) of sandalwood sticks is the high point of Nobomi. The soaring flames reminding you that the Pujas are at their fag end with just one more day after this.

We went down for the community lunch and tried to catch an early batch as I had to leave for my flight back to Mumbai. I wrote about Parsi wedding feasts once before. Traditionally these were sit down affairs. You queue up behind those who are eating so that you can grab their seats once they are done. Well, let me tell you that getting a a seat at a Parsi Laganu Bhonu is children's play compared to getting one  in a Bengali biriyani on the house feast. Both communities go a bit mad when there is meat around. But the Parsi Frennys and Jimmys are very tame compared to the marauding Bengali Banalatas and Jibanandas when there is mangsho (meat) at stake. I was pushed away by smiling yet menacing uncles and aunties reserving entire rows for their clans. Only to find my mother blocking a row for the four of us at the other end!

They say that Ma Durga banishes all evil, rights all wrongs, listens to all prayers. A month or so back I had some horrible biriyani and chicken chaap at Johnny Come Lately Arsalan. On Nobomi I got to have the best Kolkata biriyani and chaap that I have had in a long long time. Things begun to look up again.

The food was served by hired help and not by the building uncle and aunties. So I took charge and asked for extra alu (potato, a Calcutta addition to the biriyani of the exiled Nawabs of Oudh), mutton with marrow pieces in the biriyani and leg pieces for the chicken chaap.

The rice of the biriyani was firm (jhor jhore) and very aristocratically flavoured. The mutton so tender that you could almost feel it flap in the surrounding breeze on a rather wet afternoon. The potatoes a work of art for something that had just soaked in its flavours from the rest of the dish. Reminiscent of a Satyajit Ray cinematic masterpiece which enthrals you even today despite its very impoverished production values and lack of colour.

And the chicken chaap .... what elegance...a very complex masala mix whose taste and aroma swirled through the chicken climaxing in an ode to culinary excellence. A dish with zest which made you feel like breaking into a Baul jig. The leg piece of chicken was small, delicate and tender. Care had gone into choosing the right cut of meat. Such a contrast from the bilge that they served at Arsalan. It was so good that I asked for a bit more of the masala later and happily twirled the spoonful in my mouth ... truly thankful to the Goddess.

I asked for the Chef. No I didn't kiss him ... but the Mainland China ad suddenly didn't seem so ridiculous. The biriyani was put together by a gentleman called Mohammed Shahabuddin. I could talk about the secular triumph of a Muslim preparing a Hindu Puja feast. But let's save that crap for the politicians. For Mohammed Shahabuddin is the God of biriyani and chaapbiriyani for large gatherings. He explained to me about how the meat was first put in, then the alu ('no biriyani without alu' he agreed) and the rice above that. Three hours from start to finish apparently. I would strongly recommend Mohammed Shahabuddin if you are in Kolkata and want to organise an authentic Kolkata Biriyani Banquet. This is his number ... 9748565397

I left happy and content. Ma Durga couldn't have given me a better send off as I bid my farewell to my mom too. The biriyani seemed to have lifted her mood for a few seconds. Dulling the pain of separation.

Note: I must say that I was really impressed by the service of Indigo Airlines. They gave me the front seat with extra leg space with no extra charge. I was just in time and they helped me cross the serpentine queues at Calcutta's village railway station-like airport. The crew was polite. I had two grannies in my row. One clutching a Kookie Jar box as did I. Another, an older one, happily munching on an airline sandwich. And yes, we landed at Mumbai before time.

Deep fried onions for the biriyani
The meat for the biriyani gets ready for its big moment
The Nawabs of Oudh had to add alu/ potatoes to biriyani when they were sent to Calcutta on exile (source: Vir Sanghvi)
My mom makes sure that the feast would be fit for her son
The very aristocratic chicken chaap gets ready

The Nobomi Joggo

Yes, we don't forget our chief guests within all the food

The priests nurture the sacred fire as the biriyani cooked in the make-shift kitchen outside
This is where I once played carrom during the Pujos. I was a lousy player. Joy, in the grey shirt, part of the original gang

The biriyani is ready and steaming

I had to win over this pehelwan so that he allowed me to photograph the biriyani inside
The aunties line up to grab their seats. My new sis in law dutifully by her mother in law
My brother and his wife make their first appearance as a couple at a Puja feast
Building Pujas are always a great time to catch up with the world

The Karmakars sit down, sans the allergic to rice, Mrs Knife

Serving is outsourced now
Mr Shahabuddin, you are the King of Biriyani
And of chaap too... check out the complex yet subtle masala mix
Eating a meal personally supervised by the Goddess
Mr Shahabuddin, the King of Biriyani, his number is 9748565397
I could have kissed him... I have never had such fantastic biryani & chaap in a long time
Mr Kanjilal, there from year one, President of the Puja this year. Father of my first 'best friend' in the building, Rupu
Thank you Ma Durga


Rhea said…
Simple, complex, masala, chicken, mutton, BIRYANI!! Man.. All the words are a my head now making me ravenous!! Lovely photo blog post. :-)
Molly said…
Very very nice post kalyan..Subho bijoya to you and your family!!! Can smell the biryani and chap here...
Jaya said…
Kalyan ,
Last two post are so so well written and brings back loads of good memories for me too , the old apartment pujo and the ambiance ..Shobho Bijoya to you and your lovely family..
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Rhea, even I begun to miss the biriyani after reading your comment :)

@Jaya, thanks and Shubho Bijoya to you and your family...this Pujo was my world for many years

Shubho Biijoya Molly
Anonymous said…
It's just so unfair, your words bought that damn Biryani to life. It's dancing on my tongue as I type, want it NOW! Congrats to your brother, your new sister in law is stunning!
..A complete Wow..for such a wonderful post...with such tempting pictures...
Biryani specially,GR8
the sis-in-law is very cute..
nice couple!
Miri said…
Thanks for that lovely post ! Sigh...its been so long since I had good biryani - and don't start on Delhi being the fount of biryani - bah!

Good for Indigo - I quite like them too. Unlike Jet Airways - we had the most horrendous experience 2 weeks back on BOTH flights, international no less!

BTW, curious - why the judgement suddenly...which part of what animal is harmed by which community to eat vegetarian food??! very unlike you, but that whole statement smacked of something I couldn't quite understand...after all, to each his own and all that jazz is what we believe in, right?!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Hey Miri, good to hear from you...had a couple of turbulent experiences with Jet & Jet Lite recntly myself

Re 'the judgement'... well I normally stay away from religious customs as India seems to be super ssensitive to religious humour...I was referring to communities such as Maharashtrians, Sindhis or Punjabis who eat meat or fish but do not serve the same during festivals or even marriages ... not sure if Malayalis do so
Anonymous said…
Yr sis-in-law looks like a Goddess.
and The Biryani looks perfect
Sassy Fork said…
had dinner....feeling hungry again looking at yr pictures....sure to make you return to kolkata every year!
Deep Debjan said…
Great write up and pics Raja Da ... Shahabuddin prepared the biriyani in didibhai's wedding as well .. Needless to say it was the highlight of the feast !! "Serving has been outsourced" that really hurt. This is the third year in a row that I am out of Debjan. I Remember those days when we used to serve food and aunty uncles used to say "Chelera koto boro hoye geche dekho" ... Right now sitting in Singapore and trying to figure out when and where Pujas happen here .... Miss those days when we used to count the number of shirts and trousers bought for the Pujas.. Miss those countless rehearsals we used to do before the main function .. Miss the traffic jam, the hot humid weather , miss the dhaak beats alongside the latest musical hits in the air ... I hope that next year would be able to be in kol for the Pujas ...
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Deep, yes I hate going to Durga Pujas because it makes me miss Debjan so much. Hope the biryani finds you next year
Kurush F Dalal said…
now i know where i'm gonna b next pujo!!
ps this biryani looks seriously good!!