As a potpourri of various traditions and cultural influences, Kolkata’s cuisine is rich, extensive and vibrant. However, that one dish which has never ceased to win the hearts of the food lovers, is the Kolkata Biryani. A close cousin of the Lucknowi Biryani, Kolkata Biryani is loved for its subtle taste and less robust yet toothsome flavours.
Apart from the long grain fragrant rice, aromatic whole spices, good quality meat, optimum use of seasonings and the dum style of cooking, it’s the huge chunks of fried potatoes that lends a unique dimension to its flavour profile.
The city’s deep seated love for this delicacy is clear through the presence of innumerable biryani joints, both small and big or new and old. With its quintessential characteristics, Kolkata biryani is class apart whose distinguishing feature is the use of potatoes.
Kolkata (or Calcutta) biryani owes its origin to Lucknow. It originated in the kitchen of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last ruler of Awadh when he moved to Kolkata from Lucknow. Every biryani aficionado will agree that the best Kolkata biryani can only be found in the city and nowhere else. Our quest to taste the best biryani in Kolkata led us to the kitchen of the stalwart chef Manzilat Fatima, who belongs to the lineage Nawab Wajid Shah and to an old, popular eatery in the Northern fringe of the city named Dada Boudi Biryani.
Come let’s walk you through the experience. It was a privilege to learn the niceties of this stellar dish from someone who has perceived it in close quarters through handed-down recipes and stories.
Through her popup restaurant that specialises in Awadhi cuisine, Manzilat has been serving happiness to all the food lovers out there. No wonder her chicken and mutton biryani are the talk of the town. Driven by deep passion and love to play with flavours, she and her team serves magic to the discerning customers. Manzilat showed us how to make a classic Kolkata style chicken biryani that anybody can recreate at their home.
Before stepping into the kitchen, we shared a brief conversation over a gorgeous cup of pink chai and some Ulte Tawa Ke Paranthe. During the tete-tete, she told us about the apocryphal story of how potatoes came to be a part of the Kolkata biryani. It was soon time to start with the cooking. The irresistible, fragrant biryani was ready in just four easy looking steps. But the masterpiece was a result of passion and expertise. It was a joy to see Manzilat play with the ingredients with such effortless ease.
The biryani was like a warm cuddle. The subtle and hearty flavours in every morsel sent us into a state of calm bliss. Those yearning for a classic Kolkata biryani must try it at Manzilat’s. The potatoes tasted great as well. We had paired the biryani with burani raita. The meal at Manzilat ended with a brilliant sooji ka halwa.
After trying the classic, Kolkata style chicken biryani from Manzilat, the following day we set out to try it from one of the city’s hugely popular biryani joints named Dada Boudi hotel in Barrackpore. Situated in the Northern part of the city, Barrackpore had gained much relevance during the British Raj, as it formed the administrative and military base then.
We took an electric train ride to reach the historical town of Barrackpore. On alighting from the train we straightaway headed to their biryani factory where the day’s final batch of biryani was going to be prepared. The factory was like a huge room where an army of cooks were busy preparing for the mission. The sight of the large cauldrons, some over the gas stoves and some over the wood fire was absolutely thrilling. Here we met the industrious team of cooks and associates who diligently carried out the task of preparing the biryani. Soon we realised that the whole process from beginning to the end is thoroughly structured and so for us it was like watching one step smoothly transiting into the next and so on. What really impressed us was the sheer dexterity and enthusiasm of the fellows working in tandem. We were amused by the way they were managing the huge fire and the enormous amount of heat emanating from the same without complaining.
Soon after the biryani got ready, they were loaded into a goods carrier and dispatched to the hotel. The eatery was crowded to the brim of which half were eating in the seating area and half had queued up for the takeaway. Before digging into our plate, we spoke to Bapi da who told us about the place, it’s speciality and the reason behind it’s unwavering popularity. We couldn’t help but notice the sparkle in his eyes as he spoke about the place. Finally we settled down to eat the famous mutton biryani of Dada Boudi hotel. One morsel of this scrumptious fare just won our heart. The flavours were varied yet subtle. The generous piece of mutton was tender and succulent. The rice was flavourful and fluffy and last but not the least, the potato added a comforting touch to the whole dish. Undoubtedly this was the best we have had in Kolkata.
So this was the story of our Biryani trail in Kolkata. There are many iconic places in the city that serve amazing biryani. We intend to try them on our future visit.