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Tried and tested: Have you tried the Dilli biryani near Jama Masjid?

The small shop of Pehlwan Biryani Wale at Haveli Azam Khan in Chitli Qabar Chowk sells delicious chicken, mutton and buffalo meat biryani.

more lifestyle Updated: Dec 17, 2017 08:53 IST
Rahul Verma
Rahul Verma
Hindustan Times
Tried and tasted,Rahul Verma,Biryani
The biryani cooked with buffalo meat at Pehlwan Biryani Wale.(HT file photo )

What is it that divides us the most? Politics, religion, caste or region? Nah! It’s the biryani. I have never eaten biryani with friends without being drawn into a long and fruitless argument over which region or sub-region has the best biryani of all. Hyderabadi or Kolkata biryani? Aambur biryani of Tamil Nadu or Dindigul? Kolhapuri or the Old Delhi biryani?

I love them all. I enjoy the spiciness of the Hyderabadi biryani, the luscious potato of the Kolkata offering, the juicy prawns in Kerala’s chemeen rice dish, the subtle flavours of the Awadhi biryani, and even the good old, hardy Dilli biryani. It has been said — and cannot be denied — that the Dilli biryani doesn’t stand up to its cousins from other parts of the country. But I enjoy it for two main reasons: one, it is here. And two, there are some old ustaads who still wield a masterful ‘karchi’ in parts of Old Delhi.

One such well-known ustaad is Pehlwan. Everybody in the Jama Masjid area knows of Pehlwan Biryani Wale. Haji Mohammed Anwar looks a bit like a pehelwan too. He sits in pristine white clothes, presiding over his small shop at Haveli Azam Khan in Chitli Qabar Chowk.

He sells chicken biryani, which I find has a lot of takers. There is mutton biryani and biryani cooked with buffalo meat as well. I asked for the latter, and dug into it with great enthusiasm. The meat, cut into small pieces, was tender, the rice was long-grained and fragrant, and the dish was enjoyable, albeit a bit dry and spicy.

They also have a variety of bread like Taftaan, Kulcha and Laccha Paratha. (HT file photo )

Dilli biryani has a few special characteristics. The rice used by most biryani sellers is golden sela, and yellow chilli adds its own flavour and taste to the dish. It’s spicy, with the chilli-hot quotient balanced by the ghee that goes into the dish.

Unlike many of the biryanis of other regions, the Delhi dish is not enriched with nuts and raisins. After all, Delhi’s food was known to be Lashkari — or for the soldiers — unlike the Shahi or royal food of Awadh and Hyderabad.

Haji Mohammed Anwar looks a bit like a pehelwan too. He sits in pristine white clothes, presiding over his small shop at Haveli Azam Khan in Chitli Qabar Chowk. (HT file photo )

Some of the old ustaads of the Walled City are no more. I miss Bhura, who had a counter in Chitli Qabar, and Haji Noora, who sold biryani near Turkman Gate. But Pehlwan has his legion of fans. As winter creeps in with its icy feet, I can see the lines doubling up before the shop for his hot biryani. Works better than woollies, I would say.

Recipe: Old Delhi biryani

Ingredients: 1 kg mutton (biryani cut), 500g rice, 2 thickly sliced onions, 2tbsp garlic-ginger paste, 1tsp yellow chillies, 200g yoghurt, 1tbsp ginger slivers, 4 green chillies, spices (cloves, cardamom, cinnamon), a pinch of saffron, 1tbsp kewra water, salt to taste, ghee, oil.

Method: Soak the rice in water for two or three hours. In a pan, heat the oil and add the lamb, onions, ginger-garlic, salt and yellow chilli powder. Fry for 10 minutes. Add two cups of water and let it simmer till the meat is almost done. Now, put a pan of water to boil. Add spices and more salt. When the water boils, add the rice. Cook till 3/4th done. Mix yoghurt with ginger, chillies and saffron. Layer it over the meat in the pan. Now layer it with the rice. Add kewra water and the ghee on top. Add some hot water. Cover and seal the lid with dough or foil. Put a heavy object on top of the lid so that the steam does not escape. Let it cook for 20-30 minutes. Mix and serve hot with raita.

(Rahul Verma has been writing on food for over 25 years now. And, after all these years, he has come to the conclusion that the more he writes, the more there is left to be written)

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First Published: Dec 17, 2017 08:52 IST