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In a recent Twitter poll and panel discussion on the great biryani cities of India, fellow food writers were stumped when I launched Chennai into the fray, against the followers of Lucknow, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Delhi. I stood my ground then, and I shall stand my ground now - in my opinion, Chennai is the most biryani-fanatic city in India.
It may not have the finesse of Awadhi Biryani or the flamboyance of the Hyderabadi version, however, what it does have is the adulation of its devotees. Biryani is served on celebrations and solemn occasions, on weddings and funerals, on Eid and even on Christmas! Check out these five popular Biryanis in Chennai:
Thalpakatti Dindigul Biryani, branches all over Chennai
Hailing from the town of Dindigul, at the foothills of the Nilgiris, the biryani was popularized by the headgear of its propagator, Nagasamy Naidu; ‘Thalpakattu’ translates in Tamil to a turban. The biryani uses smaller Seeraga Samba rice, which has a nice taste. It is complemented by a peppery, dark masala and succulent meat.
Ambur Star Biryani, branches all over Chennai
Another stalwart of the Seeraga Samba rice is Star Biryani from the town of Ambur, which lies halfway between Bengaluru and Chennai. Touted to have cascaded from the royal kitchens of the Nawab of Carnatic, the biryani has a distinct taste of a tomato-onion base and the dum style of cooking.
Aasife Biryani, branches all over Chennai
Aasife Biryani has taken the city by storm over the last few years, launching new outlets every few months; each glitzier than the one before. A rags-to-riches story, Aasife started two decades ago on the Mount Road pushcart. This biryani uses basmati rice and is subtly flavoured; the brand’s hallmark is the clean and modern ambience it offers the diners.
Sukku Bhai Beef Biryani, Alandur
If it is beef biryani, it has to be Sukku Bhai. Leave aside your trepidations for eating off the street if you want to experience the biryani here. A hole in the wall establishment in Alandur, squeamish foodies are better off getting a takeaway. Also, try their ox-tail soup.
Anise, Taj Coromandel, Nungambakkam
The only five-star hotel in the list, Anise at the Taj Coromandel earns merit for its gosht gilli biryani. The most popular dish on the menu, the moist biryani consistently features fall-off-the-bone meat and a moreish masala. It is also the best biryani you can get in the twilight hours of Chennai – available up to 4 am.
Follow Amit @iamitp