The writer savours the many different biriyanis available in the city. The long and short of it is that every biriyani has its own loyal clientele that makes it a hot seller

Beautifully aromatic and with the right blend of spices, rice and meat, nothing can compare to the grandeur of a biriyani.And in a city where idlis and dosas rule, biriyani is threatening to usurp the position, with most restaurants serving the dish for lunch and dinner. In fact, there are restaurants which serve just biriyanis and certain bakeries and supermarkets that sell biriyani packets at the counter.

And just like the dosa, the biriyani too has become pan-Indian. In fact, people get into heated arguments over which region serves the best biriyani and also on which restaurant in town plates up the best version of the dish.

The city too offers diners variants of the biriyani that traces its origins to the Mughal dynasty. Awadhi biriyani, Hyderabadi biriyani, Thalassery biriyani, Malabar biriyani... it’s a veritable non-stop biriyani mela for gourmands.

According to caterer, chef and television host Sayed Maheen Abubaker (popularly known as Naushad), anything with meat, rice and spices cooked together is biriyani.

“Different places have different versions of the dish and every chef, his take on it. For instance, the Hyderabadi biriyani is different from Dindigul biriyani. While the former is spicy, has long grained rice and kasuri methi as ingredients, the Dindigul biriyani uses jeera rice and is porridge-like in texture. The ‘Naushad biriyani’ has Hyderabadi, Malabari and Lucknowi influences in it.”

Perhaps one of the first to introduce ‘dum’ biriyani in the city, way back in 1982, Naushad adds: “Very few people back then were familiar with the ‘dum’ style of preparing biriyani, the traditional way of cooking the dish. Then, most restaurants served a pulav version and called it biriyani; some still do."

And while most restaurants announce their version of the dum biriyani, the biriyanis that seem to rule in kitchens across the city come from the Northern part of Kerala – biriyanis perfected by the Mopplahs of Kozhikode. And they seem to have perfected many variations of this biriyani, Thalassery dum biriyani and Malabari dum biriyani, being the popular ones.

“The biriyani is a signature dish of the Muslim community in India no matter where they live. I remember how my non-Muslim friends would ask me to pack biriyani from home to school for lunch. The biriyanis we prepare in the Kozhikode region are much lighter than the Mughlai version, which uses rich cream and cashew paste. It is also not over powered by spices,” says Amina Musaliar, a restaurateur.

Although foodie and former food show host Raj Kalesh enjoys dining on the different kinds of biriyani, the one that has him salivating for more is the Thalassery dum biriyani. “Thalassery biriyani, like the Malabari biriyani, uses Khaima rice and not the long grained Basmati rice. This rice is extremely fragrant and the aroma from the cooked rice whets your appetite. Also the chefs use fresh ground masala to prepare the Thalassery biriyani; this enhances the flavour of the biriyani,” says Raj.

While there are vegetarian biriyanis, it’s the non-vegetarian biriyanis such as mutton, chicken, fish, beef and prawns that are more popular. Some restaurants even offer signature dishes such as Tiger prawns biriyani, Tandoori chicken biriyani and Chicken tikka biriyani. While some biriyanis are served in pots, some are served on plantain leaf, and others, rather unromantically, on plates! Usually served with a side of raita and pickle, some ‘schools of biriyani’, have papadum, salad, korma or a boiled egg as accompaniments to the biriyani.

“It is a complete meal, and could be a reason why the dish is hugely popular amongst customers and features on most of the menus in town,” says Supriya Chellapan, who runs a restaurant.

Although the dish sells well throughout the week, the weekends see a rise in sales as most people dine in or pack them as take away.

Different takes

Awadhi biriyani (meat cooked with spices and combined with long grained rice in layers and cooked on a dum)

Hyderabadi dum biriyani (meat is marinated in curd and spices and cooked on a dum with long grained Basmati rice)

Thalassery biriyani (meat and jeera rice cooked separately and then layered and steamed in an air-tight vessel. Fresh ground masala is used)

Malabari biriyani (meat and jeera rice cooked separately and then layered and steamed in an air-tight vessel. Dry spices are used)

Cooking ‘dum’ style

So, what exactly is dum biriyani and what makes it so special? “Dum is a style of slow cooking introduced by the Mughals. The meat is cooked slowly in its own juices in an air tight vessel over hot coals. Sometimes, hot coals are placed on the lid for even cooking. This is so that the flavours from the herbs, seasonings and marinade infuse into the meat and rice. If meat is cooked in the dum style, it won’t be leathery; it will melt in your mouth,” says Chef Shahid Hussain, MRA Restaurant.