142 Nungambakkam High Road, Chennai
Meal for two: Rs 800
Thalapakatti means ‘the one who ties a turban’, and the restaurant takes its name from its founder, the dignified looking ‘Thalapakatti’ Nagasamy Naidu, who was known thus in Dindigul for the trademark turban that he wore. He founded the original restaurant circa 1955, and created his special ‘Dindigul thalapakatti biriyani’ from plump, small-grained jeeragasambha rice and high-quality meats and masalas. His family has preserved his patented recipes, brought his restaurant to Chennai, and created a successful brand (using his quaintly old-fashioned portrait as an icon).
It’s interesting to ponder on how biriyani made its way, from its origins in Iran, all the way to south India, following the twists and turns of history—with the Mughals, Nizams and Nawabs of Arcot. Along the way, it obviously evolved, in accordance with the local ingredients, palate, climate and way of life. Hence the thalapakatti biriyani we ordered (accompanied by a peppery mutton rasam) was enjoyable in its own robust, spicy way, though it bore very little resemblance to its distant Lakhnawi cousin. We also pigged out on old favourites, like bull’s-eye appam and Ceylon egg parotta, but, unfortunately, had to postpone other ‘military’-style favourites on the menu, like brain egg special fry, mutton liver roast and thalai (goat’s head) curry for another day. Dindigul Thalapakatti recently won a famous legal battle against Rawther Thalapakattu, a clone that tried to encroach upon its brand equity. So, presumably, the head that wears the turban can rest easy for now.