Biryani – the one food item that unites us all. Over time, and across various forms, biryani has been loved and embraced by us all. Come to Kolkata, and the very different city is as crazy on the middle-Eastern delicacy as the middle-East delicacies.
Biryani, though, is different here. Don’t get us wrong, biryani is a legend, and the first thing that you’ll hear about biryani is how pivotal it is to celebrations. For Calcuttans, biryani is about weekends and celebrations, about the egg and the aloo that is so coveted that other forms of biryani sound virtually tasteless. It, also, is about the euphoria of good food.
So, if you happen to be in the City of Joy, biryani is something that you will have to taste to know what it means to us, who have all grown up in this place. Funnily enough, when you mention biryani, the reactions are varied. From roadside stalls to more established places, we Bengalis leave no stones unturned to let you know that biryani is our absolute, absolute favourite.
Of the three most notable places, the one that leads among those who have grown up in the 1980s is Royal’s, in Chitpur, Kolkata. The restaurant, situated in the interiors of alleys filled with trucks, is where the legacy of no-egg Kolkata biryani originated. What you essentially need to know is that the taste originates in the Mughal era, when the notions of Arabic food took over our taste buds. It may not have the boiled egg, but the perfect balance of flavours make it the incredible biryani that it is.
For Calcuttans, biryani is about weekends and celebrations, about the egg and the aloo that is so coveted that other forms of biryani sound virtually tasteless
Move over, to yet another iconic place that Kolkata related to biryani – Shiraz. The once-legendary restaurant was home to one of the finest biryani in town, complete with the most well-marinated chicken, perfectly simmered rice and deeply flavoured aloo. The boiled egg was an icing on the proverbial cake, which catapulted Shiraz to fame in Kolkata almost three decades ago. Shiraz is not the icon that it once was, and many a place serve biryani that is of comparable taste and quality, but the emotion remains. Why, you ask? Because, like we have stated before, Kolkata is not about just the flavours, it is about the enigma and emotions that follow.
The most popular biryani hunt, though, is Arsalan. The essence of the very best of Kolkata’s biryani, over time, is this. The right mix of spices, with possibly the best-made biryani mutton, is what Arsalan brings to you. If you haven’t had it, you’ve missed it, and many a connoisseur of the epitome of the Mughal delicacy have professed their love and approval for Arsalan, and for all of us who have grown up with this legendary biryani, there’s no wondering why.
Many restaurants, though, have modelled themselves after the world-renowned inclusion of aloo and boiled anda in the behemoth biryani. You’ll find them across varying prices, spread over every nook and cranny of the city. Some lay it out over posh cutlery and the clink of accompanying Coke, while many others pack it in hasty, cardboard packing boxes. Kolkata never lets you go hungry, and neither does it let you not savour its very best, no matter where you are.
Biryani may be the ace of the middle-East, and Hyderabad and Lucknow remain famous for their legendary biryani, but if you have missed the anda in the famed Kolkata biryani, there is no substitute for it.