I brought home Biryani by Kilo… or rather veg Hyderabadi biryani and was dazzled more by packaging than spicy biryani in pot. It was more Andhra-styled biryani and we well know they love their chili hot peppers in Andhra Pradesh even in their Hyderabadi biryani!
Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column
By Tara Narayan
FUNNY or not funny. Some hateful folk think I’ve become so rich that I’m ordering meal deals from the five-stars of Marriott, Taj Vivanta, Miramar Fortune, here, there and everywhere just because I write about them now and again! I do not. As for writing we media people are trained to write from the thin air if we can! Someone whom I consider a friend called to ask me with mock syrupy sweetness, “Tara from where are you ordering your Sunday lunch this week?”
And I promptly told her I’m checking out the come lately Biryani by Kilo people whose promotional leaflets are falling out from everywhere tucked into the morning newspapers and who’re flashing themselves in every visible place or so to speak. Who are they? I don’t know. The Biryani by Kilo people? Is their biryani any good?
Sunday lunch is a weak point with me. And who doesn’t like to savor an aromatic steaming biryani on a Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do than snooze afterwards till tea-time and a few biscuits (no early or late dinner after that) till next morning’s breakfast? I decided to find out how good the Biryani by Kilo is and a phone call later realized that these newcomers had set up kitchen where the old south Indian eatery Aarohi used to be at Miramar (where Riomar stands, somewhat opposite the gelato place called ….).
An educated voice came on and I asked about the biryani, do they have a vegetarian biryani and is it good for two to eat? Savvy guy replied, of course, but since they’re just started up they’re unable to deliver at Caranzalen if it’s only a small order, they’re short of staff. I was surprised to learn that their menu listed quite a few vegetarian biryani and they’re “25% percent popular” the guy on the phone said. They have from egg to paneer Hyderabadi to veg Hyderabadi to intriguing kathal Hyderbadi and Peshwari chole biryani – price range goes from Rs325 to Rs365 per half kilo. They have only half kilo and one kilo portion packs. Since I’m living so close by I could go pick up!
I went. Several of the home delivery guys from Swiggy to Zomato and others were lined up the stairway and into a decent lounge room to sit and wait after placing one’s order, or to pick up parcel after booking online. I found my friends Valencia from Vasco da Gama and Milind Dande there, they had placed their orders after screening the colorful Biryani by Kilo pamphlet details.
I ordered my half kilo veg biryani which would come along with raita or salan or burani raita as extras, Rs55/Rs85 (for the burani raita which is a specially “bhunaod” ginger-garlic flavoring raita). Salan is the mystery sauce which comes along to moisten the biryani before tucking in. Then I saw matka firni on the menu and said I’d take one of that too, never mind the price (Rs265 per firni pot). Hey, later at home I gave full marks to this delectably creamy to live or die for firni, it was so good that even I got carried away by it and wished I’d bought only the firni and skipped the biryani!
Oh never mind! It was no good? It was okay but a kind of over spiced up biryani with chunky veggies limp and a little cold at the core as if not too well thawed out before being put together into a biryani. This here I realized is instant fix biryani where they have pre-cooked long basmati rice, the veggies, the masala. All are put together in half or one kilo pots carefully and a terracotta saucer lid atop them sealed with thick dough. The pots pushed into oven and heated up just so to infuse flavors – and lo, the pots emerged as per orders placed. Hot enough but not too hot that one could not carry them away neatly parceled in pretty blue bags.
I broke the smartly tacked biryani bag and removed two pots – the biryani pot, I didn’t pay attention to the other pot which had two tea candles in it, I thought it was a complimentary or was I supposed to light up the candles to eat my biryani lunch by candlelight? Hey, I goofed up and the laugh is on me.
I should have paid attention to the other pot too and the fine print leaflet atop it which instructed me to light the candles and put the biryani pot atop it for final heating up of the biryani. This other pretty pot with two tea candles is the additional aanch or mini-aangithi pot to heat up the biryani pot “to provide those extra 8-10 minutes of dum to your biryani” – finale steam cooking within!
(Sigh) As it is I’d pushed the mini-aangithi aside to think about later and in my hurry concentrated on removing the hard crusty brown burnt dough seal of the biryani pot – crust breaking off into crisp litter all around on the table and turning light green pistachio color. I put a few bits into my mouth, quite edible. Then scooped out the biryani on plates and we sat down to eat – fine basmati rice with a bunch of veggies laced in masala which was way too spicy for me to enjoy. The hint of sour in biryani rice portions here and there was nice but altogether I was disappointed by my Biryani by Kilo affair.
It was a dismal veg biryani. I’m not going to rave about it. The thin salan sauce came in a small black plastic container and I didn’t touch it. They love the color black, these Biryani by Kilo folk… of course, all this could be because like I said earlier it’s only after we’d eaten that I realized later that I’d failed to do the nautanki honors on table of re-heating on the aangithi pot! I should have read that unreadable leaflet! So no wonder I’d found the hefty carrot sticks in the biryani slightly deep frozen at the centre, not thawed out fully. Anyway, who puts such hefty carrot sticks in biryani? So much for instant biryani fixes but last Sunday’s lunch joke is on me and I accept it, don’t laugh!
It doesn’t make much of a difference as far I can see, it was still an over spiced vegetably Hyderabadi biryani for me which turned my stomach rebellious late on, for I am not used to spicy foods any more. But I will rave over the was in the other blue bag, it made up for whatever the biryani lacked! It was one superlatively fine firni and I will go back for more of it. Only firni, please. The firni is too good and damn expensive of course, maybe I’ll go get it on birthdays only or when Sunday rainy day lunch blues catch up with me. I still have to taste the kathal (jackfruit) and chole biryani which I’ve never ever done, maybe these won’t be too spicy.
AFTER all biryani is biryani and who doesn’t love a biryani to warm up the cockles of the heart occasionally? Even in our current still covid-infested times the thought of a good biryani fills the mind and haven’t biryani packets become a popular giveaway to folk in need courtesy some charity, NGO, good Samaritan? This one time meal is easy to prepare and distribute and who doesn’t love a good biryani, except that a good biryani is hard to find. Many kitchens small time or big time are doing biryani affairs but there is biryani and biryani and sometimes I think I far prefer the more delicate pilaf Persian-styled affairs, than a spicy biryani which burns my tongue.
This means I can’t find biryani to pleasure my senses, only biryani to burn my sensibility here, there and everywhere! Some will of course say vegetarian biryani is nonsense, a Kashmiri cook I used to know in Mumbai that was Bombay used to say that if it’s biryani it must be lamb biryani and his lamb biryani was unforgettable; I used to look forward to eating it so many moons ago in my 20s and 30s. In fact, Bombay friends will still remember Rajab’s biryani prepared in the home of one NC Patel (someone I loved too much and who was an uncle of sorts being my paternal aunt’s brother-in-law, he was the more adventurous of two brothers, one who settled down to home and family while the other wandered around India and abroad).
THIS is to say I’ve written about biryani here before and truly we Indians have a bounty of different kinds of biryani from coast to coast in this country. Do biryani lovers know that these distinctive rice recipes hail from the Persian word birinj for rice, also beriyan, to fry or roast. Biryani’s journey from Persia to the Moghul kitchens and the country over created popular local transformations, basically rice biryani done in Hyderabadi, Lucknowi, Malabari, Andhraite, Keralite and other styles.
All depending on different regions, communities who took to the idea of this wholesome, versatile ricebased one pot meal… socio-economic conditions also counted. Ever eaten a biryani with just wonderfully seasoned potatoes enshrined in it, the potatoes wonderfully caramelized just so to make for just so deliciousness, I wanted to eat the potatoes more than the rice! Along with fine fresh onion-mint leaves relish. Where? Junketing down the Malabar coast once upon a time if I remember right.
A biryani may be as austere or as richly adorned with spices and dry fruit as you wish… the Sweet Nation people in Panaji have a popular cranberry biryani, sweetish. But I don’t like sweetish biryani. I like my biryani heady with the fragrance of whole spices and green herbs, mildly spicy, non-oily, garnished with crumbly toasted onion choora. Hard to find, hard to find!