The food scene in the City of Joy is a lot more than its celebrated fish and sweets. Over the years, several other dishes have not just made a space for themselves in Kolkata but are ruling hearts. Take Kolkata biryani for instance. It has been winning Bengalis for ages now.
The hypnotising aroma and the finely flavoured rice speaks volumes of the perfect combination of masalas used, served pipping hot with sides like mutton korma or chicken changezi. And, not to forget, the quintessential potato, which now is a trademark in biryani, bringing in a major (read welcome) difference in taste.
How it came about
The Kolkata biryani, in the way it is made, is inspired from the Awadhi (Lucknow) style. History has it that the aloo special biryani dates back to the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (1822-87). When he was dethroned and exiled by the British to the then Calcutta in 1856, he took his bawarchis and khansamas along with him. Unable to find meat, the cooks started adding potatoes to the dish, which went on to become the speciality of the Kolkata biryani.
Eateries like Aminia, Arsalan and Royal Indian Hotel have been maintaining the legacy of Kolkata biryani for decades now.
“The Bengali Muslims incorporated the pattern of Awadhi style of cooking. And with time came in a local touch to the delicacy,” Aminia hotel manager Ejaz Akhtar said.
Aminia was started by Hazi Quayyum Saab in the year 1945 and has been maintaining the same flavour ever since. Till now, the dish is cooked in the age-old clay oven.
Started a little more than a decade ago by Akhtar Parwez, Arsalan gained immense popularity in the city in a short span. Its speciality is aloo bukhara (plum) in the biryani, the only eatery that serves it.
“When the restaurant was opened, our customers were mainly Muslims. But the love that Bengalis have shown for biryani is commendable,” ZA Khan of Arsalan restaurant said.
“We don’t buy manufactured spices. All the raw masalas are ground and mixed by the restaurant staff. Even the meat we use is chopped by the staff. Arsalan biryani, no matter how cold it becomes, will never get sticky or clot on the plate,” added Khan.
Royal Indian Hotel, started in 1905 by Ahmed Hussain, is perhaps the oldest one serving biryani in the city.
“Hyderabadi biryani is heavy and too spicy and Delhi biryani uses gravy for the preparation. But Kolkata biryani is exceptionally light. No essence and less spices make its taste very different,” Mohd. Irffan of Royal Indian Hotel said.
Royal Indian Hotel, though, doesn’t use potato in its biryani. Instead, it garnishes the dish with crumbled meat balls.
The selling point
So, what makes biryani of Kolkata different from other cities?
“The dish did not become popular in one day. It is the love of the people of Kolkata for the dish that has remained the same with time and made it what it is today. It is kept simple yet extremely delicious. Adding potato has made Kolkata biryani a genre in the food world,” Irffan added.
For the residents of Kolkata, there can be no second option to biryani, especially with mutton. The mention of biryani makes it impossible to resist the temptation to eat a plate right away.
“Nothing can compete with biryani. I have tried biryani in many cities, but what is served here is best. The taste and aroma make all the difference for me. And if it’s a plate from Arsalan, Aminia or Royal then there’s no delay in gobbling down,” said Kaustav Karak, a resident of Shyambazar.
And it’s not just the residents. Bollywood celebrities and cricketers too love Kolkata biryani.
“Ranbir Kapoor orders a plate of Arsalan biryani whenever he is in town; so does (former Pakistan cricketer) Shoaib Akhtar. Almost all the celebrities order biryani whenever they visit the city,” Khan of Arsalan pointed out.
So, when next in the City of Joy, you know what to do.
Best outlets: While Kolkata biryani is available across the city, possibly the three best outlets for the authentic Awadhi variety are Aminia and Arsalan, which has multiple outlets, and Royal Indian Hotel at Rabindra Sarani
Cost per plate: Rs.150-180
Cost of sides: Up to Rs. 200 (for korma and chicken chaap)
Timing: From 11 am to 11 pm
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