Monday, 1 May 2006

Bombay Biriyani

Rule One. Don’t ask for Bombay Biriyani in Bombay. It’s one of those things like Chicken Tikka Masala and French Toast, unknown – at least by those names – in the lands of their alleged origins. (Aside: in the South where I spent most of my childhood, we ate Bombay Toast; when we moved to Bombay, we realised that the natives called it French Toast.)

As in so many cosmopolitan metros, you get food from all over the world, some authentic, some bastardised, but very little that’s truly native to the city. So if you would sup on biriyani, you have it easy.

The area around DN Road and Fountain gives you an excellent selection of regional varieties, including, I’m told, beef biriyani, though I haven’t come across it. As do the Muslim-dominated parts of Mahim (Kerala-style) and Bandra (more Bohri). The rest of the extended city yields a sprinkling of biriyani joints, as far afield as a five minute walk from my home in Vashi (where the kababwalla near the mosque cooks an excellent dum biriyani by the kilo, strictly by prior order), and even a truck-stop restaurant in Panvel.

But the mother-lode is in South-Central Bombay.

Mohammad Ali Road and its bylanes are practically lined with restaurants and carts, all of which will offer you fragrant mounds of the stuff, cooked in vast quantities, precise measures of the yellow, oily rice shovelled on to two pieces of meat and potato that have been simmering in gravy. In some places, a boiled egg is included, Hyderabadi style. There’s also the more expensive dum biriyani, layers of rice and meat cooked together in flour-sealed vessels. This happy situation extends northwards, to the belt that stretches from Byculla to Bombay Central, with one major outpost just off Haji Ali, the famous Noorani, much loved for its combination of tastiness, reasonable prices and very liberal meat:rice ratio. Aside from the standard varieties, Noorani does a mean Kerala-style fish biriyani, and if memory serves, a mild Arabi Biriyani, sprinkled with nuts and dry fruit, that caters to the Middle East clientele. And yes, come to think of it, there’s the Reshmi Tikka Biriyani, which, if I remember my Busybee right, is a uniquely Bombay concoction. Mildly, but definitely, spiced, with little boneless tikkas. Burp.

Published in the May 2006 edition of Outlook Traveller, as part of a multi-contributor feature on biriyani in various parts of India.


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