The Biryani Journeys at Hyderabad with Celebrity Chef Sanjeev Kapoor

If we have to name one pioneering person who has revolutionized food shows on Indian TV, it has to be Celebrity Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. Food lovers like me used to wait eagerly for the episodes of his legendary show Khana Khazana on Zee TV. The show ran for seventeen long years  and was the pathbreaker for many more food and cookery shows in the country. Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s contribution to the Indian food scene was rewarded with the Padmasri award in 2017.

You really thank your stars when you get a chance to work with such a legend. I was elated when I got a call from Mr. Runjiv Kapur, the Director of his food episodes saying that they would like to collaborate with me for the Hyderabad episode of  “The Biryani Journeys”, a four-part series Chef Kapoor was developing about Indian biryani. Initially, I thought it was only to the extent of providing details about Hyderabadi biryani and the places he should visit in the city, but soon Runjiv told me that they are looking forward to me accompanying the legend on his biryani journey in this city.

With Runjiv Kapur, the Director of the show

Work started at the right earnest much before the shoot. Details were being exchanged on mail on different aspects of the biryani – the history, the variants, and the styles. Mr. Kapoor wanted to meet the connoisseurs of Hyderabadi biryani, and contact was established with Nawab Mehboob Alam Khan, courtesy my friend and culinary expert Chef Pradeep Khosla. The managements of Shadab and Paradise were more than happy to welcome Mr. Kapoor to their restaurant.

The shoot was planned over two days in different parts of the city. It started with the visit to the well-known spice market near Begumbazar. Apart from Runjiv and his team of photographers, we had persons from Daawat (the basmati rice makers and the sponsors of the show) accompanying us too. Once in the market, Chef Sanjeev spoke at length to quite a few of the spice vendors, trying to understand the quality, production, and the varieties of spices available. He also briefly posed with a dealer of Daawat rice there. It was really inspiring to see a celebrity mingle so easily with the common people in the market.  

Our next stop was the iconic Charminar, where we shot for a long time inside the monument, where I was talking about the Hyderabadi biryani, its variations, and the changing trends.

With Nawab Mehboob Alam Khan and Chef Pradeep Khosla

The next stop was perhaps the one I looked forward to the most. Nawab Mehboob Alam Khan, the authority on Hyderabadi cuisine had invited the team for a lunch at his brother Mr. Ahmed Alam Khan’s residence at Barkatpura. Over a period of one hour, Nawab Saab briefed us about finer nuances of Hyderabadi food in a freewheeling discussion. It was an exhilarating experience for a biryani lover like me to listen to the gems of wisdom from the doyen of Hyderabadi biryani.  Following are some of the salient points from the discussion:

·      The two most important things which has come into Indian cuisine from Central Asia are biryani and khameeri (yeast) roti. The technique of cooking rice with meat has come from those regions.

·        There is a major difference in culinary culture of Hyderabad compared to North Indian Muslim princely states such as Awadh and Rampur. The Deccan cuisine is much simpler, not using flavours like kewra or rose, though saffron is used. Secondly, souring agents are used in Deccan dishes – tamarind, kairi (raw mango), curd and leafy vegetables like Ambada are some of them.

·         The Hyderabadi cuisine has a few genres of khana – day to day food, festival food (like Eid food), dawat food (like marriages) and travel food, with each of them having a set of dishes. The “Saffri khana” or travel food is dying as it has lost relevance with time.

·        Topmost among the requirements for good Hyderabadi biryani is good quality meat. The quality of rice and cardamom is very important too. There should be a copper degh, larger the size the better. There is no point making Hyderabadi biryani in a small degh of couple of kilograms.  Best quality biryani should be made in batches of 50 or 100 kgs. Good quality dry wood is a must as a fuel. 

·      There used to be rice variety called Kala Bhat in the Deccan in the earlier days. The rice was such that while cooking the flavours could be felt from far. Unfortunately, this variety of rice is no longer available.

·        Hyderabadi Vegetable Biryani is definitely a good dish (contrary to popular belief even in hardcore Hyderabadis that there is no such thing as vegetarian biryani).  In fact, Nawab Saab considers vegetable biryani the next best after mutton, even compared to chicken and beef. However, it is not a pulav, it needs to be cooked in a dum in kacchi style just like we do for Hyderabadi mutton biryani.

·         A good biryani is to be eaten immediately on its preparation. Waiting makes the rice dry and brings down the taste. The degh should be opened a little bit at a time from the corner and the meat should be scooped out from below with the rice sticking to the meat. The fat dripping off the mutton adds taste to the biryani. The gosht is the main thing in the biryani, rice is secondary. A lot of rice with a few pieces of meat is no way to eat a biryani.

Zafrani(above) and Sufiani Biryani

At the end of the session, it was lunchtime, and this was definitely the best Hyderabadi food I ever had. A huge range of kababs, curries and biryanis was there. Nizami Zafrani and Sufiyani Biryani, Haleem, Marag, Dum ka Murgh, Lukhmi, Tamatar ka Kut, Talawa Gosht and the list goes on and on. The Nawab was personally taking care of all the guests and this was a unique experience for me. The challenge was to try out a little bit of every dish.

At Shadab

The next day started early. Shadab Hotel at Madina is one of the iconic places for Hyderabadi food including the biryani. A visit to the hotel included a meeting with the owners Mr. Umar and Mr. Shoaib, and tasting the biryani there. One team visited the kitchen to shoot the scene there. Chef Sanjeev had a long discussion regarding the biryani over a shoot with the owners, while we enjoyed some delicious falooda after the biryani.

At Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad

We also visited Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad, one of the most authentic Hyderabadi restaurants in the city. Chef Pradeep Khosla had invited the team for lunch there, and we tried out some really good Hyderabadi food, along with photo sessions in front of the painting of Charminar in the restaurant. Chef Khosla is an old acquaintance of Chef Sanjeev, and they spent a bit of time reminiscing the work they had done in Kolkata a few decades back.

Spending the two days with Chef Sanjeev Kapoor was a humbling experience for me. I could get a peek into the huge knowledge base that he has. Additionally, his humility is something which deserves to be emulated. I was quite nervous initially while shooting with him, but his easygoing ways made me relax completely. When I queried him about this, he narrated a story about his own experience when he first participated in a shoot with the redoubtable Amitabh Bachchan. It seems Big B took special efforts to familiarize with him before the shoot to make sure that a working relationship is established. It was pleasure also to work with Runjiv and his team, with so much bonhomie and team spirit.

The Hyderabad episode of “The Biryani Journeys” was broadcasted on 17th July 2019. You can have a look at the full episode here.

#TheBiryaniJourneys #SanjeevKapoor #Hyderabad


  1. Awesome ... This is probably the best episode of this entire series