As an archaeologist I would be tempted to say that the reason I am so obsessed with biryanis is because I am fascinated by the history, opulence, art and culture of the Islamic period they were invented in.
Or as a staunch disciple of the great cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris, I could justify my mania for this extremely delicious dish by pointing to my Brahmanic genes – my strictly vegetarian Brahmin ancestors were denied meat, onions and garlic so I am making up for generations of deprivation by focusing on a dish that has all the aforementioned in plenty.
The truth is I have no idea why I love biryanis so much – I always have and always will. Bas – as we say in Hindi to emphasize a point that does not need explaining.
To the uninitiated, a “biryani” is a dish of fragrant rice flavoured with spices atop a mound of cooked meat, fish or vegetables. It is normally accompanied by a yogurt raita (salad) or with a meat or vegetable gravy. The latter in my opinion is only served in very discerning eateries that offer top quality biryanis.
I had my first proper chicken biryani (yes, with the accompanying gravy) aged 8 ½ in a rundown restaurant called Olympus in the Indian city of Bangalore. To the shock of my Mum and my sisters I polished off an adult portion and had to be wheeled out of the place.
Back home in our little town in India, my mum sent our maid off to a family friend’s kitchen to master the art of making genuine biryanis from the Indian city of Hyderabad. The maid sniffed at their ‘dirty’ kitchen, cleaned it first and came back with expert knowledge. Thereafter my mother made biryanis for us every other Sunday.
In adulthood having moved to Bombay, the obsession continued and a completely inebriated me encountered Café Noorani in Haji Ali at 3am – this being the only self respecting restaurant open at that ungodly hour. I had a chicken tikka biryani and was hooked for life. I had it once again in the sober, harsh glare of daylight just to be sure and I still remained hooked. Thereafter for a decade I looked no further than Noorani for sustenance.
I live in London now and along with the usual homesickness for family, friends, and Indian clothes came the overpowering craving for Indian food – biryanis in particular. And hence began the quest with the realization that I would have to kiss a lot of frogs before I find my prince; smell a lot of flowers before I find the perfect rose; encounter tons of hyacinths before I find the beautiful lotus – I think you get my drift.
How will I know when I find the perfect biryani? What happens when you find your soulmate? You just know, right?
Join my quest at http://www.kundaskitchen.co.uk/biryaniquest
If you’ve had a great biryani recently I would love to hear from you!