Ambur Biryani, the Other Biryani from Down South

While Hyderabadi Biryani is well-known the world over, there are a few other varieties of biryani from South India which have their own followings. Ambur Biryani from the erstwhile princely state of Arcot is one of them. The biryani is especially in demand in the northern part of Tamil Nadu as well as parts of Karnataka around Bangalore city.

Ambur is a small town in Tamil Nadu known for its leather industry, is located on the way to Bengaluru from Chennai close to the Karnataka border, It is said that about a century ago, Hasin Baig, a bawarchi from the kitchens of the Nawab of Arcot relocated to his hometown Ambur and started preparing biryani there with a similar recipe as the Arcot biryani. While the biryani at Nawab’s court was prepared in basmati rice, Baig started making his Ambur version for the masses using cheaper seeraga samba rice. The biryani (spelt “briyani” in Ambur) which was initially sold on bicycles, became so popular that a small shop was set up and people from even outside the town started to flock to this shop. Over the years, this recipe, now known as Ambur Biryani, has spread to parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where it is hugely in demand.  Bangalore and Chennai, for example, has many eateries offering this version of biryani.

Apart from the variety of rice (Seeraga Samba rice is known as Chitti mutyalu in Telangana), there are other differences Ambur Biryani has from its Hyderabadi counterpart. The meat here is cooked before putting the biryani on dum, and tomatoes are used frequently in the recipe. Also, the biryani uses more of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and green chillies and is not as spicy as the Hyderabadi one. Moderately high use of tomato, coriander, and mint leaves gives a uniform colour to the biryani. 

While preparing Ambur biryani, the meat is first pre-cooked using onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, curd, and whole spices. Separately cooked rice and this meat are then layered in a degh and topped with ghee before putting on dum. In some places, the rice and meat are mixed together instead of layering.  The biryani is preferably eaten with an eggplant gravy known as Kathirikal Pachidi.

The Original Pondy Parottas outlet in Moti Nagar

Three years back I located a small place in the bylanes of Madhura Nagar near Ameerpet Hyderabad that was perhaps the only place serving Ambur Biryani. Pondy Parottas an eatery run by Raja Subbiah and Judith May, a couple from Pondicherry has made rapid strides since then. They now have two restaurants in Hitech city (Road to Hitex Exhibition grounds) and Kukatpally (lane next to Manjeera Mall) as well as two delivery points at Nanakramguda and Balkampet. Though also known for their Tamil and Sri Lankan parottas, the outlet introduced Ambur Biryani to the menu and since then there has been no looking back. 

Pondy Parottas in Hitech City

As per Raja, Ambur Biryani has become his largest selling dish very fast and draws a steady flow of local customers.  He offers variants of this biryani in chicken, mutton kheema, and prawns. The biryani here is served with a special Dalcha apart from salan and raita. The masalas which are prepared completely in-house give a special taste to their biryanis.

Note: This is an updated version of the article originally published in New Indian Express Hyderabad on 9th September 2017. 



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Oaksmith Gold: A Fine Blended Whisky from Beam Suntory

Just before the lockdown, a friend told me about trying out Oaksmith Gold, a new brand of whisky that has arrived in the Hyderabad market. As a lover of whisky, I do try out different brands all the time, and what he told me was interesting. Oaksmith Gold is a blend of Scotch and Bourbon, but the product has a Japanese touch too. In fact, this brand from Beam Suntory (known in India for Laphroaig as well as Japanese Yamazaki and Hibiki) where aged premium Scotch whisky is added to Kentucky Bourbon, has been crafted by well-known Japanese Master Blender Shinji Fukayo, who was also involved with premium Japanese brands like Yamazaki and Hibiki. Thus the product is a rare blend of East and West.

Mr. Fukayo wanted to prepare a blend exclusively for India, and he visited our country a number of times, touring different rural and urban venues to understand the drinking habits of Indians as well as the bar food here. The endeavor has been to create a brand that complements the consumer’s palate and provides an entry-level option to premium whiskies. Some amount of Indian grain whisky is also blended into the product. 

The idea of blending Scotch with Bourbon is quite novel giving this whisky a unique taste. It is a product aimed at the taste of Indian whisky aficionados, where whisky is typically enjoyed with soda and water. As per Fukayo, “While making this blend, I wanted to ensure that it resonates specifically well with the Indian audience while being truly international in its spirit.”

The whisky retains a little bit of smokiness from the peaty scotch but it has its distinct woody aroma from the Oakwood barrels of Bourbon. In fact, the product derives its name from the Oak barrels in which the whisky has been aged. The taste felt very smooth and easy to me, which is a hallmark of the work of a master blender. There is a sweetish finish that I could feel too.

The whisky has been launched exclusively for India with plans of making it available in the international market in the near future. The pricing is quite economical too, with a tag of around Rs 1400 for a 750ml bottle in Telangana. This pits this against mass premium brands like 100 Pipers but at a much more pleasant price point. Already there is quite a bit of traction for the brand in the state, which will definitely go up with more awareness.




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Promising Home Chefs and Cloud Kitchen Options in Hyderabad

2020 may be called the year of food delivery. Due to the pandemic, and restaurants being closed as well as the reluctance of the consumers to visit them even after they have reopened has led to a boom in takeaway and home-delivered food in every Indian city. The home chefs and food entrepreneurs have risen to the challenge by bringing in many differentiators to stand out in this business. Here is a look at some of the promising cloud kitchens as well as food served from home chefs in our city, Hyderabad. I had earlier talked about some options (READ: Home delivered Food Rules the Roost in Hyderabad) and here are some fresh new ideas to order your food from.

Dakhni Dastarkhan: (Hyderabadi)  Call 9989600054

When the Hyderabadi dishes come from a very well-known Hyderabadi family, your expectation is naturally very high. And the food from Home Chef Aqsa, from Dakhni Dastarkhan does complete justice to it.

The Zaffrani Gosht Biryani is served with some exceptional salan with boiled eggs in it. The biryani itself tastes very different from the run-of-the-mill variety we get usually. The Shikampur has the mandatory belly fill of a nice mint-based preparation. The flavours of Dum ka Murgh and Talawa Gosht strike the right note. After all, though these are common dishes, the recipes are heirloom. This place is right on top of my list for future orders of Hyderabadi food. 

 

The Pork Affair: (Pork meat delicacies) Call 8106451341

Hyderabad does not have too many places serving good pork dishes, but there is definitely one home chef I can recommend in this segment. I had tasted the Pork Biryani from them a few months ago and loved the same. This time, after rave reviews from my trusted friend I went for some more dishes from there.

Pork Curry with Paratha, Boneless Pork Fry, and Pork Pulav were the three dishes I feasted on. I commend them first on the quality of pork they procure because in Hyderabad it isn't easy to get good stuff. All three dishes are just very good, especially the pulav with the fat melting into the rice. The curry was cooked with a lot of expertise and with no additional oil. 

Definitely worth it for the pork lovers in the city. 

Rassasie: (Continental) Telephone 9154422459

This is a new setup in Jubilee Hills, which has a refreshingly different menu, stressing on continental food. Their Grilled chicken is a feast to the eye. While I personally loved the Tandoori Grilled Chicken (with abundant veggies like baby potatoes, broccoli, corn cobs, and so on), you also have other choices like barbecue or oregano.

Another highlight is Lamb Stew sent with garlic bread (one toasted more than the other). With abundant veggies and meat, the broth is really a melting pot of flavours.

This is a project of a home chef who had always been passionate about cooking and has taken her first baby steps into the F&B business. 

Stories In A Box: (Indian Regional) Telephone 7995004999

A Cloud kitchen with a difference with a very innovative menu, mostly comfort food from home kitchens, and some interesting preparations. 

Take for example Mutton Soup Annam, flavourful rice cooked in mutton stock with shredded mutton in it. The whole bowl gets over in a jiffy. The Rasam Annam, with a zing of pepper in it, is also for the soul. Carrot & Beans Poriyal Rice can be enjoyed with some tossed Alu Fry.

I am not a big fan of curd rice, but still, the Iyengar Curd Rice impressed. Chicken Fry was spicy and delicious.

They have a great Tiffin Box concept, where you can pick a total of 4 dishes, 1 from each set. And the tiffin box is priced very aggressively at 219.

Shahi Maksoos: (Hyderabadi) Telephone 9908695320

Shahi Makhsoos, the home kitchen of Asma Farooqui, has an economical Hyderabadi food platter which is good enough for two persons. To start with the Chicken 65 is prepared the traditional way and is definitely on par with the best in the city. The Dum ka Murgh is another gem with the big Roomali Rotis delivered alongside. And then, there is the Hyderabadi Biryani with a thick and tasty Mirchi ka Salan. 

Oriental Tales: (Pan-Asian) Telephone 7702989898

A new Cloud Kitchen promoted by the Rayalaseema Ruchulu group has some very interesting combos that can be delivered to your home. The Fried Rice and Chilli Chicken reminded me of the Kolkata joints that I used to frequent during my childhood, while the noodles paired well with Fish in Hot Garlic Sauce.

They also have sumptuous family packs that can be ordered for large families. And of course, a whole range of starters including Hyderabad ka apna Chicken Drumsticks and Pepper Chicken... The promoters being experienced and acclaimed in the F&B business, you are assured of quality and safety procedures.

RR Chinese Corner (Indo Chinese) Telephone 9885264232

This place suggested to me by Chef Pradeep Khosla during our Instagram Live session is a small economical place for Indo-Chinese. The owner cum chef Shankar Pande has more than a decade of experience as a Chef in Taj Krishna, Westin, and Hyatt Gachibowli. 

RR Chinese Corner (named after the initials of his son) has a short menu catering to the busy Banjara Hills customers, but the chef is willing to do additional dishes (out of menu) at prior notice. Thus after a discussion with him, my choice was Golden Fried Prawns (a favourite from Golden Dragon), Chicken with broccoli, bell pepper, bok choy and other veggies, as well as Chicken Dimsums (with a special scallion pepper dip apart from a fiery one). The Kolkata style Chilli Chicken was requisitioned with Burnt Garlic Fried Rice. I had high expectations and the food did exceed the same. 

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Pulasa Pulusu: Monsoon Season’s Favourite Fish Curry from the Godavari

During the monsoon season, the fishermen folk from the basins of Godavari and some of its tributaries expectantly await their prize catch. Pulasa, which is perhaps the costliest fish available in that belt, enters these rivers from the sea to lay their eggs in sweet water. In these areas, the fish sells at a princely price of few thousand rupees per kg during this time, being lapped up by rich and wealthy to enjoy Pulasa Pulusu, a rich gravy dish normally eaten with rice. In fact in the coastal areas, there is a Telugu saying “Pustelu ammi ayina Pulasa tinocchu” which means that it is worth even selling your mangal sutras to have Pulasa fish.

The fish species are not just popular in Andhra Pradesh. In fact, Tenualosa Ilisa or Hilsa is known as Ilish in Bengal and is the national fish of Bangladesh. During the monsoons, the Bengali speaking population in that part of the country literally goes crazy over the dish, preparing umpteen number of variations using different recipes. Festivals of Hilsa preparation is organized in Bengali restaurants all over the world. Also, the entire coastal belt from Burma to Sindh in Pakistan fancy this fish and have their own recipes for the same. However, it is widely acknowledged that the Pulasa caught from specific areas of Godavari during the season is one of the tastiest variants of the fish. 

                                                           Pulasa Pulusu                           Pic Courtesy: Kiran Bonthu

The most popular recipe for Pulasa fish in Andhra Pradesh is Pulasa Pulusu, spicy gravy with okra, tamarind, and green chillies. Proper procurement of the fish is very important, as a good quality fish can hugely enhance the taste. The sautéed masala is prepared from onions, garlic pods, ginger and curry leaves, with ample chilli powder added to spice up the taste, while tamarind paste provides the tanginess. Okra and green chillies are then added to the masala followed by pieces of the fish.  A lot of added water makes it into a gravy, which is slow-cooked over some time. Often, most of the fish literally melts into the gravy. Garnishing is done with coriander leaves, and select masalas. It is said that the pulusu tastes even better if eaten a day later. Jaggery and mango pickle oil are sometimes added as variations to the recipe, and even drumsticks used instead of okra.

In Hyderabad, Pulasa Pulusu is hardly available in restaurants. A popular place for the dish is Sri Balaji Caterers at Madhapur, who are selling the preparation in Hyderabad for the last five years during the season. Ramaraju, who runs this catering service is an expert in the authentic preparation of this dish, which is available on prior orders only. 

Pulasa tastes good even when fried in its own fat

Ulavacharu, the well-known Telugu restaurant sometimes serves it only during the season based on availability. As per Vinay Narahari, the owner of the restaurant, the dish has a lot of demand among their loyal customers. They source the original Pulasa fish directly from West Godavari district. 

Note: This is an updated version of the article originally published in New Indian Express Hyderabad on 11th August 2018. 


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Donne Biryani: The Popular Rice and Meat dish from Bangalore served in Dried Leaf Cups

Usually, the names of biryani varieties are prefixed by the places of their origin, like Hyderabadi, Awadhi, Kolkata, and Ambur. An exception is Donne Biryani the most popular biryani of Bangalore, which gets its name from the dried leaf cup or bowl known locally as Donne in which it is served.

Donne Biryani at Maa Ooru Biryani, Hyderabad

Donne Biryani is in high demand all over Bengaluru and neighbouring districts of Karnataka, and it is the local military hotels that have made it famous. The first few such hotels were essentially small eateries set up for Maratha soldiers in the seventeenth century to enjoy some economical non-vegetarian food. Over time, these places catered to the soldiers of Tipu Sultan as well as the British army. Even now, Shivaji Military Hotel and Ranganna Military Hotel are some of the popular places in Bengaluru where food lovers scamper to for their fill of this biryani.

This biryani is actually more of a pulav where rice and marinated meat are cooked with green masala and basic spices on firewood or coal.  The rice used is short-grained and aromatic jeera samba, which is common in many biryani variants of South India, and known as Chitti Mutyalu in the Telugu states. The dish is available in variants of mutton and chicken, though I have not come across a version with beef so far. 

Shivaji Military Hotel, Bengaluru

Also read: Ambur Biryani

Donne biryani is not a complicated dish. The basic spices used are coriander, cumin, whole garam masalas as well as ginger and garlic paste. The green masala has quite a bit of mint leaves, green chillies and sometimes a little coriander leaves too. The flavourful rice adds to the taste of the dish which is often served with a spicy gravy and onions spiked with curd.  Even the aroma from the donne in which it is served has a role in its flavours. The biryani is a simple and economical rice and meat dish for the masses, which is easy on the pocket as well as the tummy. 

In Hyderabad, Maa Ooru Biryani at Kukatpally is perhaps the only place serving Donne Biryani.  Rachin and Priya Katti set up this restaurant in 2015, and this biryani is their fastest moving item on the menu. As per Rachin, who is originally from Bangalore, the meat stock in which the biryani is prepared and the mint tempered masala provide a distinctive taste to the dish.  The restaurant offers the chicken and mutton variants of the biryani and even a vegetarian version with carrots and beans. Their customers range from IT professionals to local traders, and many regulars drop in quite a few times in a week. 

At Rayalaseema Ruchulu, Hyderabad

Rayalaseema Ruchulu, the well-known Telugu restaurant has also added this dish to its menu in the recent times. Chickpet Donne Biryani with branches in Kondapur and Ameerpet is another chain of restaurants where you can enjoy this dish. 

Note: This is an updated version of the article originally published in New Indian Express Hyderabad on 30th December 2018. 


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Qmin Food Delivery Platform Delivers Delicacies from Taj Falaknuma

 COVID is almost at its peak, and not many people are opting to dine out during these times, but still missing the food from their favourite restaurants, such as those from IHCL or the Taj Hotels group. Wasabi, Varq, Karavalli, and Thai Pavilion are some of the names that immediately come to mind. In Hyderabad, Taj Falaknuma Palace is clearly the most coveted hospitality destination in the city. Adaa, the fine dining restaurant here is known for the recipes from Royal kitchens, whereas Celeste celebrates international food including Continental and Oriental. Both restaurants have their staunch loyalists in the city.

To offer the delicacies of their signature restaurants in the comfort of home, Taj Hotels has launched Qmin, an exclusive delivery platform delivering food of their signature restaurants under the [email protected] initiative. After Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata, the platform has been launched in Hyderabad on 7th August Friday. To start with, the platform will deliver food from both Adaa and Celeste, the two restaurants of Taj Falaknuma. At a later stage, this may be expanded to include other Taj properties in Hyderabad also.

Food Delivered by Qmint


So what makes Qmin different? Qmin stands for Qurated dishes made with the highest Quality of ingredients, offering a variety of your favourite Quisines, delivered at your doorstep in the comfort and convenience of your home. As of now, there is a toll-free number 1800 266 7646 which the guests can call to place their order. You have the option of discussing the menu (available through an online link) with the chef so that you can fine-tune your requirement. The protocols of hygiene are all followed such as contactless delivery, biodegradable containers, and sanitized vehicles. Delivery is available all over Hyderabad. Soon, an app will be released to make the ordering process even more seamless.

Biodegradable Packing

I got the opportunity to try out the platform on the day of its launch. A detailed telephonic discussion with the F&B Head helped me in fine-tuning my order. As requested, the food was delivered to my apartment complex right at 1 pm. The delivery executive delivered at the designated location in our building and informed me on the phone regarding the same. The biodegradable boxes had most of the items neatly packed, while the biryani was served in a separate paper bag.

Adaa
Adaa

While ordering the food, I stressed on the dishes I had not tried in these restaurants. From Adaa, I ordered the Amer Khwani Biryani (a special preparation topped with soft lamb and seekh kabab) as well as the well-known Raan-E-Adaa. Both the dishes were absolutely brilliant. The Haleem with shredded lamb and a perfect balance of spices was impressive. The Lamb Shikampuri is a special Hyderabadi dish for me, and I loved it with the mint chutney accompanying it. Even after almost an hour of travelling the food was extremely fresh. 

Amer Khwani Biryani 

Raan-E-Adaa

Among the other items on the delivery menu at Adaa, Dum ki Nalli, Keema Kaleji, and Sofiyani Murgh Pulav are some of my recommendations. The last one is only available in a handful of restaurants in the city, and Adaa serves one of the best versions of the same. Vegetarians can safely order Jimmykand Shikampuri,  Bharwan Paneer, and Subz Gulzar Biryani. A few dishes from the Telugu cuisine such as Nellore Kodi Kura are also available. 

Lamb Shikampuri

Kachhe Gosht Ki Biryani

Choosing continental and Oriental items from Celeste was a tough ask, as there are so many things that you like on the menu. I chose to try out Cajun Crusted Fish with Wilted Greens from the Continental stable and Five Spice Pan Seared Duck from Oriental. I was tempted to order a Pepperoni Pizza, but finally desisted. For my wife, who has a sweet tooth, 

Celeste

Fudge Brownies and Mango Coconut Pudding were the choices made. Reluctantly, we did not order Jauzi Halwa, the Hyderabadi dessert with Turkish influence, as there were too many items already.

Cajun Crusted Fish with Wilted Greens

Five Spice Pan Seared Duck

Seafood Laksa, Whole Wheat Aglio Olio, Garlic & Scallion Chicken, and Butter Chilli Garlic Prawns were among other dishes that looked interesting to me. You also have a choice of pizza, sandwiches, and burgers. 

Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli

The launch of Qmint brings great news for the loyal clientele of Taj Falaknuma as well as food lovers who wish to deliver in food from Adaa and Celeste. Impeccable packing, safe contactless delivery on time are added advantages apart from the food itself, the quality of which has never been in doubt. The food can be ordered between 12 Noon and 10 PM. 

Note: Some pics are courtesy of the hotel.




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