It came wrapped in the warm aroma of spices. I inhaled the fragrance of the Dindigul biryani, and began to make deep inroads into the meat-and-rice dish that had been served at a restaurant in Coonoor.
Dingidul — known for its locks and biryani — was miles away, but the chefs in the Coonoor restaurant had mastered the recipe. Cooked with succulent pieces of chicken and fragrant jeera rice, and tempered with whole spices, the dish reinforced my faith in south Indian biryanis.
For years, biryani in Delhi meant an Awadhi or the Dilli version of the dish. Then Andhra Bhavan introduced us to the Hyderabadi biryani, and we could not have enough of it. There was a time when our Sunday lunch meant a plate of Hyderabadi biryani, hot and spicy, and adorned with a boiled egg.
Now, restaurants, big and small, have been serving various kinds of south Indian biryanis in the city. You can dig into Kerala’s chemmeen biryani, Chettinad mutton biryani, or even Mangalore fish biryani and Coorg meat biryani.
I always enjoyed the biryanis of Mahabelly in Saket, in particular its Thalissery chicken biryani. I also recall a satisfying meal I had at a restaurant called Thalaivar. It has on the menu Chettinad chicken biryani (₹525) and Malabar mutton biryani (₹575). Its chicken biryani is cooked in a Coimbatore curry style. Veruan in Kailash Colony Market serves Malabar prawn (₹599) and mutton biryanis (₹599). Tiny restaurants in Old Rajinder Nagar, which cater to students from south India preparing for the civil services, serve south Indian biryanis, too.
A few days ago, a friend told me about an eatery called Thalairaj Biryani in Indirapuram. We ordered a chicken dum biryani (₹329) and a pepper chicken biryani (₹329) and loved them. The dishes were spicy, but had a delicious southern flavour, enhanced by curry leaves. The pepper chicken biryani had pieces of boneless chicken cooked in the Chettinad style and had the heady taste of crushed pepper.
Then, for our dinner a few nights ago, we ordered a plate of Malabar prawn biryani (₹350) from Hotel Malabar in New Friends’ Colony. The rice — lightly stirred on top, but with a gravy-like consistency at the bottom — had some juicy bits of prawn in it and a tart taste that I liked.
South Indian biryani aficionados believe that the biryani — at least rice-and-meat cooked together — originated in the south, and finds mention in Sangam literature. The variety in the south is indeed mind-boggling. That is not surprising, for people in the region are predominantly rice eaters. Tamil Nadu has its Salem biryani, which is cooked with long-grained rice, unlike its Ambur biryani, which uses the small jeera samba rice, and is cooked with yoghurt and tomatoes. Hyderabad has various kinds of dishes – including kucchibiryani and doodh ki biryani, which is cooked with milk and cream.
Some friends of mine claim that there is nothing called a vegetable biryani, but quite a few restaurants also serve rice-and-vegetable dishes. One popular dish is the jackfruit biryani of Andhra Pradesh.
The south Indian biryanis are bringing in new whiffs of flavours in the north. Let a thousand aromas thrive.