After Charminar, the second thing for which people all over India recall Hyderabad, is its biryani. Citizens of no other city can remotely come close to the fascination that we Hyderabadis feel for biryani. We steadfastly refuse even any comparison with the other variants of biryanis in India, let alone accept that they come anywhere close to it in taste.
Let us take a close look at the Hyderabadi biryani. It is supposed to be a dish which originated in the army of the Nizam. The army was mostly on the move, so there was a need for a dish which needed to be cooked easily with minimum utensils and have both rice and meat. So the idea of putting rice, meat and masalas on dum resulted in the Hyderabadi version of the biryani.
Of course, there are more versions about the origin of this dish. One version states that the Mughlai biryani met the Deccani spices and became Hyderabadi biryani. The other talks about the biryani originating from pilafs (pulao) which was a dish of Arab traders who entered the country through the West Coast.
The popular version of Hyderabadi biryani is called Kacchi Biryani as the meat is marinated in masala and then cooked along with the rice in a slow fire. This is as opposed to Pakki where the meat is pre-cooked to certain extent and added to the rice in layers.
While it is important that the biryani is prepared well, it is also important to make sure it is served the right way. As we open the biryani degh, on top is the flavourful but dry rice, and as you dig in under, you find the spicy and moist rice with masala and then the meat. Ask the person serving you to serve a serving spoon full of biryani cut across all these layers, otherwise you may end up having more of either bland rice or excessive masala. Usually Mirchi Ka Salan and Dahi Raita are served as accompaniments, but if the biryani is good, the real connoisseurs would normally like to enjoy it in a standalone mode.
In modern times, Paradise Restaurant has made Hyderabadi biryani famous. In 70s and 80s the best biryani in Hyderabad was available at Paradise. The restaurant has expanded rapidly and has branches all over the city, as well as Bangalore. Any visitor to Hyderabad including foreign delegations include a visit to Paradise restaurant in their itinerary as a must do in the city. These days some true blue Hyderabadis feel that the taste of Paradise biryani has gone down, and their tribe seems to be increasing. However, there is no denying the fact that Paradise has had a huge role in making Hyderabadi Biryani a big food brand, and it is still by miles the largest selling restaurant chain in the city.
Any Hyderabadi has his or her list of favorite biryani joints. I too have one which is given below (not in any order). A small note of caution – do not expect ambience and very clean surroundings in most of the Irani joints of Hyderabad. Usually, any of this restaurants will have a special biryani, where the ratio of meat is much higher compared to the usual ones. If you like spicy stuff, ask for double masala.
Shah Ghouse, at Tolichowki, Charminar and now Gachibowli: Shah Ghouse is well known for the Haleem during Ramzan. But this place belts out some great biryani too. The biryani here is very spicy with lot of masala and some succulent pieces of mutton. But the blend of spices is just perfect which makes this biryani special. The kababs here are also must haves.
Meridian, at Panjagutta: Panjagutta Mutton Shop is possibly the most famous mutton shop in that area. Few years back Yusuf Bhai, the owner of the mutton shop started Meridian Hotel just next to it. In a short period the place has become very popular for its aromatic biryani. The highlight of their biryani is that they use Potla goat meat for their biryani. Unlike most of the Irani Cafes, their Mirchi Ka Salan is not to be missed. Try their Tala Hua Mutton too.
Bawarchi, at RTC X Roads (www.bawarchihyd.com) : The biryani from Bawarchi is so popular that many restaurants have opened up in the city with Bawarchi as part of their name. So you have ‘Green’, ‘Golden’, ‘New’ and many other Bawarchis. However, the one and only original Bawarchi is at RTC X Roads. The biryani here is flavorful and not excessively spicy, and the meat is tender.
Shadab, at Madina near High Court: This is another iconic restaurant in Hyderabad known for paya, nahari as well as its biryani. The biryani here is aromatic, well cooked and spicy, but be prepared for a long wait to get a table. If you happen to visit the Charminar area in the forenoon, do not miss the Nahari or keema breakfast here.
There are few other varieties of biryani available in Hyderabad. Kalyani Biryani is the poor man’s biryani prepared with beef. Places well known for this pakki biryani are Alhamdulillah’s at Nampally and Hotel Prince at Mehdipatnam. The biryanis available in Andhra restaurants are essentially pulavs. However they are delicious in their own way, and a visitor to Hyderabad should try them out too. Ulavacharu, Spicy Venue or Rayalaseema Ruchulu are some of the restaurants serving this version of the rice and meat dish.
Sabyasachi blogs at http://www.foodaholix.in
Illustration: By Aditi Chakraborty