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Yes, we are obsessed about the soft, golden potato nestled in a bed of fluffy saffron and white grains of rice and meat. And, for most of us, biryani means the Kolkata-style biryani (it has, of course, evolved from the Awadhi one) and everything else is probably meat-laden pilaf (I am simply saying, that is how most of us seem to think – no offense intended). However, there are few places in the city, all of them immensely popular, that dish out biryanis different from the mainstream Kolkata biryani and they have crowds thronging their doors.
Royal Indian Hotel (just Royal for most), one of the city’s strongest biryani giants, has been turning out mammoth pots of biryani since 1905 and has remained true to the Awadhi roots of its biryani, staunchly so (it has unwaveringly refusing to add the potato in its biryani, popular mandate notwithstanding). They proudly aver that theirs is the ‘authentic’ Awadhi biryani, which rules out the potato but throws in a handful of tiny meatballs, kofti. Aminia (Goldpark) also serves a kofti studded biryani, but this one packs in potatoes and eggs as well. A must-try, should you land up here.
Another restaurant that has boldly refused to add aloo to their Awadhi biryani is a relatively new player on the city’s culinary scene – Oudh 1590. Their menu boasts a range dum pukht-style biryani served in earthen pots, turned out by kaarigars brought in from Lucknow. Besides the regular murgh and gosht biryani, there is the moti biryani, which comes with melt-in-the-mouth minced meat balls flavoured with a smidgen of kewra and jhinga biryani, in which meat is replaced with fresh-water prawns.
In general, The New Indian Restaurant in Kidderpore is legendary for their biryani, but those in the know come actually for their Daryabadi Biryani, a distinctly different rendition of biryani that comes loaded with aloo bokhara, cashew nuts and caramelised onions. Or try their Kachchi Biryani, their other signature dish, in which the meat and rice are slow-cooked together with a host of spices – this is saliva jerking stuff.
And then there is the spicy Hyderabadi biryani. The Hyderabadi biryani features on the menu at most biryani joints; however, some places make it better than the rest. Both Aminia and Arsalan turn out a pretty good rendition of the dish. Or head to Tamarind, near Deshapriya Park, that specialises in Pan South Indian cuisine. Incidentally, the Hyderabadi gosht biryani at Zaranj (although they specialise in North Western Frontier cuisine) has quite a fan following.
At Naushijaan (no, it has no connection with its Lucknow-based namesake), on the Kasba Connector, their largely Awadhi menu has a range of handi biryanis, but their house specialty is the one they call Biryani Naushijaan. It is a curious, fiercely guarded recipe, and a perfect sample of Awadhi culinary ingenuity, in which the meat is cooked with puréed spinach and a host of warm aromatic spices. And this one has quite fan following. In fact, Oudh 1590 also turns out a vegetarian rendition of the dish – their Awadhi palak biryani is a deliciously spicy mix of rice and spinach, and a fantastic option for vegetarians.
The Shiraz Golden Restaurant has recently introduced a whole new range of biryanis to their illustrious biryani selection. There is mutton yakhni biryani, where the layered meat and rice is doused in yakhni broth and cooked dum pukht style. Or try out the typical biryani cooked in Muslim weddings – the shaadi biryani – which is a decidedly rich biryani loaded with dry fruits and khoya. Another interesting addition is the Murshidabadi biryani made with chicken. Unlike the usual biryanis where the meat, rice and potatoes are first cooked separately, in this case they are all cooked together in the dum pukht style.
So, while the Kolkata biryani will always rule our heart, there is a lot more you can try when you are in Kolkata.