Biryani goes hi-tech, adapts to changing times. But can it be the next Domino’s?
From orders placed on an app to fusion variations — biryani goes modern to suit the tastes of urban India
We may be divided by religion, caste, colour and body type. But if there’s one thing that unites us as a country, it is our love for biryani. Fragrant pearls of long-stemmed basmati rice, layered with myriad gravies, meats and much to the dismay of non-vegetarians, even paneer — biryani is a universal favourite.
“Biryani is the second-most-ordered dish, after pizza,” says Krishnakant Thakur, partner, Charcoal Biryani. And this is the primary reason why food tech companies like Charcoal Biryani, Go Biryan, Ammi’s Biryani, and, more recently, Behrouz Biryani, are seeing huge potential in this centuries-old dish, made-to-order for the urban young.
Though the biryani’s origin has often been associated with the Mughal invasion, the word ‘biryani’ comes from the Persian word ‘birian’, which means ‘fried before cooking’. Another story traces its origin to Mumtaz Mahal, who asked her chefs to prepare this dish for undernourished soldiers in Shah Jahan’s army. It offered them a balanced meal that ticked all the boxes in terms of nutrition essentials — carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
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Perhaps it is this quality that makes biryani (and its many versions such as Hyderabadi, Mughlai, Chettinad, among others) such a popular dish. “It is a malleable dish. You can make as many versions as you want — reshmi kebab, chicken tikka, egg, mutton, vegetarian,” says food writer and TV host Kunal Vijayakar (he is a food columnist at HT48Hours).
At the same time, the QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) model is picking pace in urban India. Aided by technology, and the boom in the home delivery industry, food tech start-ups are looking to bite into a larger piece of this pie. “In the food delivery space, no one was doing a biryani QSR until two years ago. Ammi’s Biryani was the first. The market size for biryani is pretty big,” says Anuroop Nair, owner, Behrouz Biryani, the latest entrant to the party.
Biryani goes places
According to internal research by Behrouz, the organised sector for biryani is worth around Rs 2,000 crore, whereas the unorganised sector [populated by stand-alone eateries like Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Darbar (Mumbai), Paradise (Hyderabad) and thousands of small restaurants] is worth around Rs 20,000 crore. That’s a lot of biryani.
Add technology to this economics, and you will find the perfect formula for success. “Though food is the nucleus of our business, technology is an important enabler,” says Thakur. In February, Charcoal Biryani raised seed funding of $150,000 (approx Rs 99 lakh), which the company plans to use in expanding to cities such as Bengaluru and NCR. “We want to be the Domino’s Pizza of biryani,” adds Thakur. Charcoal Biryani sells over 12,000 portions in a month, across 16 outlets in Mumbai.
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Similarly, Behrouz — which specialises in the Awadhi style — does a mean version of the mutton biryani. Its biggest draw are masala (made with a secret recipe) and accompaniments such as pudina raita, mirchi ka salan and biryani gravy.
At Mighty Small, a sports bar in Lower Parel, biryani has emerged as one of the fast-selling items on the menu, despite competition from bar-friendly bites like French fries and nachos. “We sell about 50 plates a day. You’d assume snacky food would do well in a bar, but our biryanis are quite popular,” says head chef Tarun Shetty. More recently, Charcoal Biryani has launched fusion rice combos such as Asian chicken served with gravy and French chicken (similar to stroganoff). Biryani for the millennials? We hope not.
Craving some biryani, try these delivery services in Mumbai
1) Charcoal Biryani
Try: Afghani chicken tikka
biryani, Dilliwala butter chicken biryani
Order: charcoalbiryani.com or order from its app (on Android and App store)
2) Ammi’s Biryani
Try: Chicken Hyderbadi biryani, Thalaserry biryani
3) Behrouz Biryani
Try: Murg tikka biryani, dum gosht biryani
Order: behrouzbiryani.com or order from Zomato, Swiggy, Faasos
4) Hyderabad Xpress (Andheri)
Try: Egg tawa biryani, chicken dum biryani
Order: 84199 38333
5) Go Biryan
Try: Bohri-style lamb biryani, lamb Afghani biryani
Order: 6534 8844 (Andheri), 3015 1707 (Khar)