City Food – Biryani, Around Town
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Marinated meat in layers of semi-boiled rice, the Persian import has proved more durable than the foreign dynasties that brought it to Delhi.
Cooked in earthenware pots – the lids sealed with dough – biryani releases an exquisite scent that streams out when the cover is removed.
If eaten with the hand, the heat could burn your fingers. Like a treasure hunter, the meat lover impatiently digs for the ‘piece’, but clearing off the intervening basmati is as flavoursome an experience.
Matured with the fragrance of spices, the rice is infused with the flavor of the meat, which leaves a lingering aftertaste in your mouth. After the few ‘pieces’ are devoured, the meat eater continues with the rice, like a lover hopelessly clinging to the memories of a lost love.
The biryani experiences in Delhi are many, from the commercial chains such as Deez, to the Anand Dhaba in Connaught Place (extremely hot and oily), to Sufi shrines (free and delicious), to the five-star version (expensive and disappointing) at Dum Pukht restaurant, Maurya ITC.
Outside the Jama Masjid’s eastern gate, wooden carts display mounds of the saffron-flavoured meat rice, the slopes of which are embellished with shanks of inexpensive buffalo meat.
In the Sufi shrine of Matka Peer, near Purana Quila, the cook Babu Khan, who traces his ancestry to the Mughal kitchens, is known for chicken and mutton biryanis that must be ordered three hours in advance.
The Al-Kauser outlet is neither in Old Delhi (it’s on Sardar Patel Marg), nor old (since 1980), but it faithfully clings to the traditional way of cooking a biryani in the ‘dum’ technique. The customer waits in his parked car, or under the giant peepal tree, as the chicken breast or lamb shank – marinated in javitri, elaichi, and jaiphal, ginger-garlic paste and yoghurt -softens further. Served piping hot, it can be eaten standing next to the stall, or taken home.
The Al-Kauser has a second outlet in south Delhi, close to the Malai Mandir in RK Puram. This one does have seating arrangement.
Biryani tastes best with red chilli and garlic chutney, usually available only in home kitchens.