The Tall Tale Of The Kolkata Biryani!

The Tall Tale Of The Kolkata Biryani!
Have you eaten biryani in Kolkata?, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A biryani without potato is biryani alright but not authentic Kolkata biryani

Uttara Gangopadhyay
August 21 , 2019
08 Min Read

If you are in Kolkata and ask for a plate of biryani at any of the city’s restaurants serving Awadhi or Mughlai cuisine, you will be invariably served a dish full of flavoursome rice with a piece of meat and a large, boiled potato. Yes, that is the hallmark of the biryani that evolved here and has retained its popularity for more than 150 years.

It was a food connoisseur and not an impoverished royal who encouraged the adding of potato to the sacrosanct Awadhi biryani, explains Shahanshah Mirza, the great-great grandson of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow, every time he is asked the reason behind the addition of this ubiquitous root vegetable.

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah arrived in Kolkata in May 1856 to seek audience with the then Governor General Lord Dalhousie under whose bidding the Nawab’s kingdom (Oudh or Awadh, now Lucknow) was annexed by the English East India Company. He not only failed in his mission but any hope of returning to his kingdom was also dashed with the 1857 rebellion against the colonial powers. The Nawab was initially arrested, freed, offered a pension and allowed to settle down in Metiabruz, a little known neighbourhood of Calcutta (now Kolkata), verging on the picturesque Garden Reach on the Hooghly.

Slowly, the Nawab began to carve out a mini Lucknow at the edge of Kolkata, complete with the Awadhi architectural and cultural ambience. He built mosques, imambara, palaces, and even a zoo. The Nawab was accompanied by a large number of people from his court in Lucknow, including his cooks and kitchen staff. But they had to make do with locally available ingredients. It is believed that during this time, the cook may have introduced the potato, which was then an exotic vegetable. The potato was introduced to India by the Portuguese and, to Bengal by the British, according to the author of Culinary Culture in Colonial India, Utsa Ray.

The Nawab likely relished the taste of the potato cooked to perfection after being marinated in the juice of the meat and other ingredients, which encouraged the cook to continue with the adapted recipe.

Therefore, to all those who say the potato was added to replace the meat because the Nawab’s coffers were depleting and he did not have enough money to feed the large number of people, Mirza does not fail to point out that during the phase the potato was added to the biryani, the Nawab, among other things, used to maintain a large open-air zoo for which he regularly bought animals or birds. “Could he have done it if he was facing a paucity of funds?” asks Mirza.

Read | 7 themed restaurants to visit in Kolkata

Manzilat Fatima, the Nawab’s great granddaughter, who wears many hats, including that of a home chef, also corroborates on her website that the exotic potato was a luxury that only the rich could afford and not the common people.  

Essentially, the Kolkata biryani follows the Awadhi style of ‘pakki biryani’. Here, the marinated meat and the rice are cooked separately and brought together in a separate pan by placing both in layers; potato is included at this stage. The covered pan is sealed with a ring of dough so that the biryani is slow cooked on ‘dum’ or steam. According to culinary experts, the use of spices got moderated or it was not unusual to find mustard oil (common in Bengal) being used in the cooking of the meat; chicken began to supplant the mutton. But the potato remained a static ingredient.

Without any original recipe to be followed, the art of cooking was passed from one generation of cooks to the next. “However, the quality of the dish was never compromised. Chefs ensured the unique taste and style were retained,” says food blogger and author Indrajit Lahiri, who recently took celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor on a tour of the city’s popular ‘biryani’ restaurants.

 
 
 
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A post shared by indrajit lahiri (@indrajit_lahiri) on Jul 22, 2019 at 7:57am PDT

Although a slow starter, the ‘biryani’ gradually began to carve out a following of its own. While there are no dedicated restaurants serving Kolkata biryani, it is a staple in almost all restaurants serving Mughlai or Awadhi cuisine.

Manzilat Fatima, who picked up the royal recipe from her mother, now runs a catering service and delivers pre-ordered home-cooked biryani.

Apart from the vintage restaurants such as Shiraz Golden Restaurant or Royal or India Hotel, nearly every nook and corner in the city has its own ‘biryani’ place.

A-Z: Some of the popular restaurants where you may go for the Kolkata biryani:

Aminia

6A S.N. Banerjee Road, near New Market, Kolkata; 033-22651318

 
 
 
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A post shared by Pranoy R. Biswas (@_______r.a.n.d.o.m_______) on Jul 20, 2018 at 1:30pm PDT

Arsalan

191 Park Street, Near Park Circus Seven Point Crossing, Kolkata; 033-22848556

 
 
 
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A post shared by Eats, shoots and posts (@eatsshootsandposts) on Jul 4, 2019 at 9:45pm PDT

Biryanishk by The Biryani Company

24 S.R. Das Road, off Southern Avenue, Kolkata; 9874567678

Hanglaatherium

188/3/1A Prince Anwar Shah Road, near Sanghati Park, Kolkata; 8582966069

India Restaurant

34, Karl Marx Sarani, near Fancy Market, Kidderpore, Kolkata; 8481848484

Mezban

6 Ripon Street, Wellesley, Kolkata; 9073551192

Oudh 1590

P 562 Hemanata Mukhopadhyay Sarani, on Southern Avenue, Kolkata; 033-30991357

 
 
 
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A post shared by PlatesofJoy | Kolkata Blogger (@plates.of.joy) on Mar 27, 2019 at 9:04pm PDT

Rahmania

56 Park Street, near Mullickbazar crossing, Kolkata; 033-46009443

Royal Indian Hotel

147 Rabindra Sarani, Chitpur, Kolkata; 9903369147

Shaam-e-Awadh

1st Floor, Prakriti Building, Kalikapur Road, Kolkata; 6289567994

Shiraz Golden Restaurant

135 Park Street, near Mullickbazar crossing, Kolkata; 8585007649

Zam Zam

28/A, Syed Amir Ali Avenue, Kolkata; 033-22872079

Zeeshan

17 Syed Amir Ali Avenue, Park Circus, Kolkata; 033-22806842 

Tip:The jury is still out on why some restaurants add a boiled egg to the biryani. Usually, a single serving of the biryani comes with a single piece of meat and a potato. But if you are a small eater and want to share a plate with your companion, then go for the ‘special biryani’ served with two pieces of meat and potatoes.  


1

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Mily Rose August 22 , 2019

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