4015 Kms and 13 days later, I am back from a epic journey to sample the iconic Biryanis of the southern states of India. This journey combined my first love, road tripping, with my greater love of food. A match made in heaven, I tell you! You can read all about the thoughts behind the South Indian Biryani Trail here and more about the types of Biryani here.
The first ever #GreatIndianFoodTrip had 5 foodies, led by Srikanth and myself (designated Scouts of ScoutMyTrip). We charted out the travel plan that led the first ever Great Indian Food Trip to the major biryani centers of south India. Starting from Hyderabad, we moved to Bangalore, then Chennai and ended in Calicut with an additional stop at Coimbatore. We wanted to sample the best each city had to offer and wanted to showcase the unique types of Biryani of each state.
We also wanted Bangaloreans to taste the authentic Hyderabadi biryani, Chennaites to taste the best biryani in Bangalore; you get the drift! As any foodie will tell you, the freshness of food is of paramount importance. So we wanted to makes sure that foodies in each city get their biryani, warm and fresh. With this in mind, we approached Milton Homewares with the challenge. To our surprise, it wasn’t a challenge for them at all!
They quickly provided us with the Microwow casseroles to carry the different types of biryani from city to city. These casseroles could keep food warn and fresh for at least 6-7 hours, which is what we needed. Moreover they are microwaveable. Just remove the lid and pop the dish into the microwave. The hot piping biryani is ready to be gobbled up in a few minutes! They turned out to be the perfect partner for the South Indian Biryani Trail. So off we went, casseroles in tow!
During the South Indian Biryani Trail, we sampled over 25-30 different types of biryani in 5 cities. You can get idea of the different types of South Indian biryani here. We have posted about some of them on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram handles! This post is the compilation of the ones that impressed us the most in each region.
The Land of the Nizams could well be rechristened the Land of the Biryani! We were pleasantly surprised to find many subtle variations of the ubiquitous Hyderabadi Dum Biryani here. Our foodie Scouts had drawn us a list of must-visit places in Hyderabad. After a grueling(!?) tasting session spanning 2 days and over 16 plates of biryanis, we had a unanimous winner.
The exquisite biryani at Hotel Shadab, the first biryani we tasted in Hyderabad, won hands down. Just a stone’s throw away from Char Minar, this eatery is truly iconic. The ground floor has general seating area but we were given the seat of honour on the first floor, all thanks to our local host. The restaurant welcomed us with the trademark aroma of the long-grained basmati. The plates of biryani that came to our table titillated all our senses. Every grain of rice was packed with flavor and the meat was so tender that it fell off the bone. Traditionally, Hyderabadi Dum Biryani is served with a side of salan, an onion based gravy flavored with peanut and coconut, and raita with onions and chillies. Here too, the ying and the yang of flavor were in harmony! The heat of chilies in the salan complemented the coolness of raita. Bliss!
The Hyderabadi Dum Biryani was the one biryani we knew we would like. We had the privilege of visiting the restaurant kitchen where the head chef took us through the entire process. The systematic method was an eye opener! The succulent meat is marinated in a rich mixture of green chillies, minced ginger-garlic and copious amounts of red chilly powder. Along with other aromatic spices, it is then added to the rice and covered with stock. The entire mix of ingredients is then stirred and cooked over a slow fire for a long time.
Due to its cosmopolitan nature, most eateries in Bangalore serve conventional Hyderabadi and Lucknawi Biryanis. We still managed to find two gems in the city. The Donne Biryani, with short-grained (jeeraga samba) rice, served in donne or cups made of large leaves. And the Bhatkali Biryani, named after the Bhatkal region of Karnataka where it originates from.
Our almost unanimous vote went to Bhatkali Biryani. We sampled this at the unpretentious Alibaba Café and Restaurant in Frazer Town, . What strikes you about the biryani at first sight is the stark lack of color, as compared to usual biryanis. The plated dish has fried crunchy onions strewn over white rice. You might see a streak of yellow, if the chef is feeling artistic. Dig in and you discover the play of colors & flavors underneath. Each morsel does a blissful dance on your taste buds.
The Bhatkali Biryani generally uses basmati rice. However, unlike the typical biryanis, the meat is not marinated/tenderized using yoghurt or other tenderisers. The meat is rather cooked in a strong onion and tomato base, where the onion is sweated over a slow fire, with tomatoes, minced ginger-garlic and spices. Next the meat or seafood is added and slow-cooked till done. The overall preparation gets a korma-like consistency and may tempt you eat it as is. The different ingredients are then layered so beautifully that the gravy & meat are almost hidden under the rice. This is one of the healthiest types of biryani, what with no ghee or oil usage.
The best discovery of Alibaba Café, though, was Kunafa. The sweet, syrupy concoction made of semolina and cream or goat cheese, was somethings that none of us had eaten before. Yet it became such a hit with us that we all had seconds and thirds and still wanted more.
Tamil Nadu boasts of some very authentic types of Biryani. The Ambur or the Arcot Biryani and its origin story is quite popular. The Chettinad Biryani, Dindigul Biryani and one that was quite interestingly, just called the Shaadi Ki Biryani! Needless to say, we tried all of them.
Our favorite biryani here was the one at Kalyana Bhavan. They had a Special Chicken 65 Biryani which really tickled our senses. We all know how delectable a preparation Chicken 65 is and the many stories that float about its name. Now just imagine these spicy pieces of chicken in flavored Jeeraga Samba rice. Small grained and extremely aromatic, the rice takes on the flavors the spices and aromcatics seamlessly. I believe that could be the secret behind this experience. It is usually served with dry meat preparation like chicken pepper fry or mutton fry. The cucumber and onion salad with its cooling effect completes the meal.
Along with the kind of rice, the cooking method is also different from usual. The spices are simpler, where cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and red chillies are the primary flavor agents. The meat is tenderizer using curd. The rice is cooked al-dente and finished with the rest of the ingredients in a pot. What makes these types of biryani unique is knowing when the add what ingredient. The biryanis here are mildly spiced, which makes it slightly less flavorsome but also lighter on the stomach.
Coimbatore is where we sampled the Dindigul biryani, at the HMR hotel. Both Ambur and Dindigul types of biryani use the short-grained, locally grown seeraga samba rice. However, there are some differences between the two. The Ambur Biryani uses meat marinated in hung curd, while the Dindigul variant doesn’t. Also the Dindigul biryani uses whole spices and a mix of both the red and green chillies, unlike the Ambur variant. Both biryanis have some strong flavors and are high on spice. We had it with the delicious brinjal gravy or salan. If you are looking to tackle the spice, you could it with onion raita.
The food scene in Calicut surprised me. What I expected was a sleepy town with typical Kerala cuisine but what I found was a plethora of options in cuisine. Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, Arabic, you name it and they had it. There were shops selling ice cream, sweets, cakes and what not along with many bakeries in almost every street. We had zeroed in on 2 iconic eateries here, the 1939-established Paragon Hotel and the more recently introduced Rahmath hotel. There’s a beautiful movie about a small sea side hotel in Calicut, famous for its biryani, so we were excited to try it out!
After sampling (in pretty large quantities) the various types of biryani in Calicut, all of us loved the chicken biryani of Rahmath hotel.The Kozhikodan Biryani or the Calicut biryani is a rich in flavor and extremely fragrant. The food is cooked in large amounts of ghee and a lot of spices. Kerala is the land of spices, hence cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cumin and many such fragrant spices make their way into the biryani. Another reason for the aroma is the short-grained rices like Khaima or Jeeraka sala rice. Cooking with these rices ensures that the house will smell like a biryani for a long time! The biryani is served with a date pickle, sweet and sour at the same time, onion raita and papads. Brilliant stuff!
The chef we met at Paragon gave us a great tip! His secret to a great biryani is using ghee to cook the rice and oil to cook the masalas, so that the greasiness is not apparent in the finished product. Must try this the next time I make Biryani!
So there it is folks, 5 iconic biryanis in 5 different regions of South India.
Which is the best biryani in the South? Each of us had a different answer but one thing is for sure, a biryani by any other name would be just as aromatic! We would love to take you on your own food journey, anywhere in India. Please check out some of our road trip packages, and we could incorporate the food trip into it. Or just give us a shout-out here with any questions you may have and our Scouts will guide you.