Can you believe an MBA from XLRI giving up his flourishing career in marketing to get into the biryani business? Well, Vishy Shenoy did
Vishy Shenoy talks about the ubiquitous biryani as if it were a historical wonder. Photos: Sampath Kumar G.P.
SHIVA, SHIVA... a staunch vegetarian discussing the B word with a connoisseur of biryani over a meal of... biryani! What is the world coming to! But it's easy to listen to Vishy Shenoy, who talks so knowledgeably and passionately about a ubiquitous dish as though it were a historical wonder.
"Well, the biryani originated in the royal kitchens of Turkey and Arabia. The biryani of each area of the continent has its own history and its own unique character," says the sacred thread wearing, Kerala-grown Konkan. The MBA from XLRI gave up his enviable marketing career to make biryani his business.
No prizes for guessing what Vishy's favourite childhood food was. "While at school in Cochin, we used to bunk classes some time just to go and savour the biryani at Kaika's. But it was only three years back that my liking for the dish became an all-consuming passion at a Bohri friend's wedding feast, the wide variety of biryanis was amazing!" recollects the man who is soon going to offer the Bangalorean a `total biryani experience' at the restaurant he is opening with his partners.
"The biryani needs to be relished it is not a food to be eaten in a hurry. We want to give our customers a choice of biryanis vegetarian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Hyderabadi, Dindikal curry, Bhatkal, and Kashmiri. Each will be made the way they were made in the old days," promises Shenoy, who could easily pass off as Abdul.
With meticulous detail, the man has been documenting the history and origin of each biryani, talking to old cooks in remote villages (including Mir Husain Ali Musadi, the direct descendant of Hyderabad's Nizam), and collecting `ingredients' for the coffee-table book on biryanis that he is working on.
Why biryani, I ask, conjuring up pictures of glossy lobsters and marinated fish. "Vegetable biryanis too have a history and are not just concoctions created by modern chefs to appease the vegetarians!" reveals Vishy. "In the courts of Muslim emperors, it was decided that the vast number of vegetarian officials should also have a taste of the dish and thus was born the vegetable biryani."
"You'll find big chunks of potatoes in the Calcutta biryani," says Vishy, talking about the humbling of the meaty dish. "Kashmiri biryanis have a hearty dose of asafoetida, and the Calicut biryanis have a distinct flavour for they are cooked over coconut shells fires. A Bangladeshi recipe uses puffed rice instead of rice. And there is one in Arcot that uses iddiappams. North Indians use basmati rice, while in the South the preferred rice is the short-grained Zeera samba. In fact, Biryani is the only pan-Indian gourmet delicacy found in menus anywhere in the country. Of course, what you'll find in the restaurants won't be the authentic ones!" warns the man who orders biryani wherever he is eating.
People often can't differentiate between biryani, fried rice, and pulao. "For the first, one needs to fry the rice first, in the second the cooked rice is fried with the other sautéed ingredients. In the pulao, everything is cooked together." How about our own bisibelebhath? "The test of a good biryani is that when a handful is flung on a surface, each rice grain should rest separately," failing the bisibelebath in its effort to enter the biryani class.
Interestingly, when the jaws of some nawabs couldn't muster enough strength to indulge in biryanis, they invented the kababs a soft version of almost everything that goes into a kabab. So, customers will find kababs too in Vishy Shenoy's soon-to-be-opened Biryani outlet. He is also working on packed and storable ready-to-eat biryanis.
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