Food

Kerala’s Ajwa Biriyani chain is now in Chennai too

. A balancing act: Kerala’s popular Ajwa Biriyani chain opens its maiden Chennai outlet. How does this Thalassery variant fare against the Madras biryani we love? We find out

Biryani lover that I am, I find it hard to decide which style is best.

Madras style, made with basmati rice and high on spices, has always been my preference. I love Ambur-style biryani where red chilli paste replaces the whole green chilli, as well as subtly-spiced seeraga samba biryani. Therefore, when I visit a newly-launched eatery specialising in Malabar or Thalassery biryani, as it is popularly known, I am admittedly sceptical.

To begin with, I could not accept this plain-looking, white colour dish being called biryani (this prejudice was to be dispelled soon). For me, biryani has to be high on drama, and come with all the paraphernalia. So when Chef Razak AC took me into the kitchen of Ajwa Thalassery Dum Biryani, I was wondering where all the cooking takes place, as the kitchen was spic and span. There were huge dabaras of various sizes, and I was puzzled where that appetising aroma was emanating from, as there was no trace of any cooking.

Kerala’s Ajwa Biriyani chain is now in Chennai too

“We begin the preparation as early as 7 am. Preparing Thalassery biryani is a meticulous and time-consuming process that requires adequate planning and preparation,” says Razak, who along with three of his friends opened Chennai’s maiden branch of Ajwa Thalassery Dum Biryani.

Three chefs from Razak’s family take turns to come to Chennai to prepare the speciality dish everyday. The kaima rice variety is sourced from Bengal, and only ghee is used. The meat gravy, cooked on medium heat with sautéed onions, tomato and few spices, requires no oil.

Kerala’s Ajwa Biriyani chain is now in Chennai too

“The aroma and flavour can be attributed to the kaima rice, and the three stages of slow cooking which are the most essential aspect of this style of biryani,” says Razak. The most important aspect of Thalassery biryani, however, is the dum: the mutton or chicken gravy and the cooked rice are sealed and kept aside for close to three hours.

Kerala’s Ajwa Biriyani chain is now in Chennai too

We order mutton and the fish biryani. The chef recommends spring chicken, which is made with fresh chicken weighing anywhere between 450 to 600 grams. Our biryani arrives unassumingly, topped with fried onions and served with small portions of sweet dates pickle and onion raita. Just as the dish is cooked in layers, so it is served. “We cut it like a cake and plate it. You have to go right down and scoop out the rice and meat and place it on your plate,” says Naushad Mohamad, one of the partners. I relished the aromatic preparation, which tasted delicious. The hours (four, says the chef) spent painstakingly preparing this biryani were worth every morsel.

Kerala’s Ajwa Biriyani chain is now in Chennai too

The date pickle, typically served with biryani in the Malabar region, is made of dates syrup with grated beetroot, carrots and green chilli. It takes a while to get the palate used to the varied tastes of the rice, meat and pickle, and once it synchronises, you begin to relish its effect on the taste buds. The flavourful, ghee-infused preparation with a hint of masala here and there, and a splash of sweet tangy date pickle provides a satisfying meal experience. For vegetarians, there is vegetable biryani and plain aromatic ghee rice or the Kerala nei choru, along with four vegetarian side dishes such as dal fry, cauliflower fry, and paneer butter masala. Completing the meal with a hot Sulaimani is a good idea.

Thalassery biryani is all about the right amount of spices, perfect cooking of the rice and finally balancing both with perfect dum. We are informed that for dinner they also serve Malabar special items such as nei pathri, puttu and Kerala parotta. But the restaurant, with a seating capacity of 60, has nothing to write home about in terms of ambience.

Kerala’s Ajwa Biriyani chain is now in Chennai too

So has the experience made me shift loyalties? What can I say? Thalassery biryani is an experience, but Chennai biryani is an emotion.

Ajwa Thalassery Dum Biriyani
  • 205, Jawaharlal Nehru Salai, Arumbakkam
  • Hits: Mutton and fish biryani, prawns mulakittathu
  • Misses: Spring chicken, fish fry
  • Meal for two: ₹800
  • 48538383

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 1:33:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/ajwa-thalaserry-biryani-comes-to-chennai/article30930700.ece

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