The Scent of a King’s Biryani in Kolkata
There’s nothing like a hot and hearty plate of biryani when it’s raining outside.
If you’d ask folks from Kolkata for suggestions they will say in all earnestness that Kolkata is where you get the best biryanis.
So what makes the biryani of Kolkata so special? Well, to start with, it comes seasoned with loads of history. The biryani here traces its birth to the time when Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh was deposed by the British and was exiled to Kolkata.
Now, as any king who has lost his kingdom will tell you, life in exile is not easy. The Nawab loved to eat and feed as the legend goes. He moved to Kolkata with his entourage, who had to be fed, and his cooks. Money was scarce though and his cooks had to learn how to stretch their resources. So while the biryanis of Lucknow were all about the meat here they had to cut down on the amount of meat used as it was expensive. The cooks partly substituted the meat used with, the then recently introduced to India, potatoes and the rest, as they say, is history.
So what should you look for in the biryani of Kolkata? The much sought after potatoes of course which absorb the spices of the biryani on their demure canvas. Then the rice which is infused with flavours of the meat, meat stock and spices resulting in an experience which is very subtle and yet packed with taste. The closest to a classical symphony, as any Kolkatan will tell you, that a biryani can get. You would find a much lower proportion of meat in Kolkata biryanis than in the rest of India.
And where do you go to seek out the royal biryanis of Kolkata? Well, there are a number of ‘Moghlai restaurants in Kolkata and each has its fan following. A favourite of many is Shiraz at Park Street, which is reputed to have one of the lightest of biryanis. Then there is Nizam’s at New Market, where the rolls of Kolkata are said to have been invented, and their biryani has many fans too. Other contenders are Amina and Alia in Central Kolkata, Rahmania at Park Street, Zeeshan at Park Circus and the latest entrant, the slightly more than a decade old, Arsalan close by.
Most of these places are pretty basic eating houses where ‘luxury’ comes in the form of an air-conditioned section...but then you wouldn’t expect a deposed Nawab to frequent the rarified climes of fine dining restaurants would you?
So roll your sleeves and seek out the biryani which helped a hapless nawab learn to smile again.
Article and photos by – Kalyan Karmakar
Kalyan Karmakar will travel to any lengths for a good meal starting with his own kitchen. He is a consumer insights and social media specialist. He documents his food and travel stories in his blog www.finelychopped.net He considers it his life’s mission to give men the confidence to cook so that they don’t have to depend on anyone else to eat well. He lives in Mumbai.
Follow him - @finelychopped
Four Seasons Recommends -
As you indulge in this very special biryani, pair it with Four Seasons Viognier. The intense aromas of peach and perfume of this wine complement the Kolkata Biryani’s fragrant aromas of light spices, kewada and saffron. In this combination, neither the biryani nor the wine overpower each other, making it a perfect match.