I think it was in 1990 while catching a movie while in high school that I first went to Aminia, near Kolkata’s Elite Cinema.
The movie was possibly Maine Pyar Kiya. Could have been Agneepath.
This post is not a treatise on the popular commercial Hindi cinema of the 90s.
Aminia and the other biryani houses around New Market in Central Calcutta were favourite spots for us to duck into during rare outings to downtown Kolkata with carefully saved up pocket money. A basic biryani was just about enough to fit into our movie going savings. It was flavoursome enough to not need to spend more on a side and had enough carbs to feed our young and hungry tummies.
I have not been to Aminia in decades and planned to do so during my recent trip to Kolkata. We were supposed to go to Free School St to pick up sausages from Kalman’s for a friend and I thought it would be good to couple this with a trip to Aminia instead of my usual New Market biryani stop at Nizam’s. Would be interesting to see how the place was after all these years. I remembered Aminia as being very crowded at lunch when we used to go there in the 1990s. Wondered if it was still as popular.
Unfortunately our outing to New Market got postponed that day as there was a bit of a crisis at home. I barely had the time to grab a quick bite near Bansdroni where my house in Kolkata is. I wondered what my options were. I definitely didn’t want to go the Pizza Hut that had opened close by at Gachhtola. Which is when I remembered that there is an Aminia branch close by and headed there in a shared auto.
It was about 2.30 in the afternoon and I climbed up to the first floor where the restaurant is situated. The ground floor has the kitchen and a roll counter.
The mood at this 4 year old branch of the original 1929 established Aminia was pretty peaceful and somnambulant that afternoon. A couple of tables were occupied but it didn’t have the buzz that I associated with the original Aminia. But then that one is in the centre of a busy commercial hub of the city while the branch I was at is in the suburbs. The suburbs of Kolkata get pretty sleepy in the afternoon and shop keepers still close their shops for siesta or dupurer ghoom. The stillness at the Aminia near Malancha cinema was understandable given this. The place was clean, the seating functional, the aircon making it pleasantly cool. I was told that the restaurant is open from 11 am to 11 pm which means you can go there even in between meals. I think most biryani houses in Kolkata are open through the day.
I ordered a mutton biryani and a chicken rezala (leg piece) with a coke on the side which came to a royal 300 Rs odd. We probably paid about 20 Rs or so in the ‘90s for a plate of biryani. I must admit that my memories are a bit faded now and it could have been 30 bucks or so. The biryani is Rs 170 now.
|biryani and rezala at Aminia|
I raised a silent toast to the memory of my school friends of yore and tucked into the biryani that the smiling waiter had got.
I took a couple of bites and smiled. This was close to Kolkata biryani perfection as I picture it in my head. The rice fragrant, flavourful, fluffy and yet not overly greasy or kevra watered. The alu (potato), which is the soul of the biryani for me, had that lovely baked texture and had absorbed the flavours of the spice. The mutton (goat) piece, as typical of the mutton in Kolkata biryani, a tad scrawny and not very tender, yet had some meat on it. The dish was beautifully balanced and didn’t leave one with a heavy feeling. The biryani lived up to my memories of the original Aminia nurtured over close to three decades.
The chicken piece in the rezala, unlike the mutton of the biryani, was pretty juicy. The curd based sauce had a lovely even texture, not overtly creamy, but light and soulful. It was not too sweet, a problem which some rezalas I have had have. This tasted just right. I guiltily sipped on a few more spoons of the sauce’s ghee redolent goodness even after my biryani was over.
Incidentally while growing up, one never ordered sides with biryanis. One couldn’t afford to. I do now. More out of indulgence than anything. I still feel that a good Kolkata biryani can be a one dish meal. Also we used to order chicken biryani then as our parents thought mutton outside was suspect and could be dog meat. We have grown up now, have loosed the apron strings, with only cholesterol worries to stop us if at all.
On the way out I asked the folks at the counter and got to know that the food at Aminina Malancha is cooked on location and is not shipped in from the main restaurant at Nakhoda Street near Elite. I was impressed.
|Inside Aminia Malancha|
Recently Vir Sanghvi told me about a restaurateur in London who had told him that every restaurant should tell a story. Which is exactly what this outpost of Aminia at Malancha did.
Coincidentally, it was in Vir Sanghvi’s book, Rude Food, that I first read the story of Kolkata's biryani. Of how it had travelled from Lucknow with Nawab Wajid Ali when he was exiled to Kolkata. Of how the potato was added to the biryani to feed folks in the court of the exiled nobab as just meat was too expensive for the deposed chief to afford.
Well, Aminia in Malancha told the story of the next stage of the evolution of the central Kolkata based biryani joints. That of their movement to the Southern suburbs, a reflection of the growth of the city of Kolkata, channeled by the extension of the Metro.
Amina was one of the first to start this with the opening of the (now shut?) Southern Aminia in Gol Park years back. This time I noticed that the Central Kolkata biggies such as Aminia and Shiraz (and it’s sub brand Lazeez) had joined the local South Kolkata chain Bedwin and loads of independent biryani outlets (the first of which was Manti at the Tollygunge metro) to bring in biryani to the Southern suburbs. There are biryani shops everywhere here now. A far cry from my growing up days when a biryani indulgence necessitated the long haul to Central Calcutta. This trip too today is just a metro ride away with no need for a never ending sweaty, packed sardine, like bus ride unlike in the ‘90s.
It’s easier to be a biryani loving kid in the southern suburbs of Kolkata these days.
And thanks to Peetuk and BongBong, a Kolkata biryani loving Bengali in Mumbai.
PS: Talking of the tough mutton in the Kolkata biryani, a contrast was the biryani which our friend, Manishita, ordered for us from a place called Pentagon and Haan D Biryani. The biryani is classic Kolkata styled but the mutton pieces a lot more meaty and juicy than that of the biryani from local restaurants. Their number is +91 9874791313