When I think of Indian royalty and the food they must have eaten one dish comes to mind – Biryani. The king of all rice dishes, is indeed a dish made for the kings. I think of meat, vegetables, dry fruits, ghee, spices laden in aromatic basmati rice. But the biryani has humble variants too – the pulaos and tehris – food of the common man. The biryani of Persian origin is such a versatile dish, with each region having their own adaptation.
Highlighting biryanis across the country and showcasing the diversity of this dish is the Jashn-E-Biryani festival at the Neel restaurants in Mahalakshmi and Andheri. Chef Mukhtar Qureshi of Neel, who is a genius when it comes to Indian cuisine, has come up with an exhaustive menu of 12 biryanis (six vegetarian, and six non-vegetarian) that pay respect to this royal food. I got to sample the entire menu and I was left spell bound at not just the biryanis but the minute attention spent at even the accompaniments to each. Without further ado, here goes my biryani trail in random order!
Kareli ka Dum Doodhiya Pulao: (Rs. 885/-)
Appearances can be deceptive when it comes to the looks of this biryani. I was expecting it to be bland, but the rice is immensely flavored with the lamb stock and meat it is cooked in. It comes with the most well-done lamb shanks and spicy lamb koftas, that makes this one amazing pulao! The Gosht shorba that accompanies it was a spectacular meat flavored broth that would go perfectly on a cold winter night!
Jaituni Wadi Pulao: (Rs. 545/-)
The least favorite out of all the biryanis I tried that night, this pulao from Amritsar highlights the olives and urad dal wadis that are local to the place. The pulao was a tad bit bland for my liking, and even the Kashmiri Khatta Meetha Salan that accompanied could not redeem it.
Kheema aur Matar Ki Tehri: (Rs. 785/-)
The humble Tehri is an Awadhi rice preparation that is known to be a simple homely version of the biryani, characteristic for its yellow colour that comes because of the addition of loads of turmeric. This Tehri came with minced meat and peas, akin to a kheema pulao. The Gosht ka salan that came alongside helped take the biryani to another level.
Rampuri Katahal ki Biryani: (Rs. 545/-)
I was seriously considering giving this one a miss, since I’m not a fan of jackfruit one bit. This biryani cooked in the traditional dum method, stole my heart because of how well the jackfruit was treated, It looked like mutton when cooked, and tasted nothing like jackfruit does!
Subz Chukandar Pulao: (Rs. 485/-)
Beetroot is another vegetable that comes on my hit list. And is another vegetable that wowed me that night. This pulao comes overdosed on beetroot along with mushrooms, peas and carrots, but is just the most fragrant vegetable pulao I’ve ever eaten. The Kashmiri Lauki Salan served alongside doesn’t add to the dish at all, but the Gajar Kishmish Raita is a winner!
Jhinga Dum Biryani: (Rs. 685/-)
Oooh, prawn biryanis are my favorite. This one was decent, but nothing exciting to write home about. The prawns were cooked right, but the flavour of cinnamon was overpowering. Here, the Macchli ka salan that comes alongside stands out. The salan reminded me of the gravy of a Kerala fish curry, and is delicious enough to eat just by itself.
Nizami Chutney Biryani: (Rs. 785/-)
This biryani comes with the much controversial potato! To potato or not to potato, in a biryani? The rice is coated with a delicious green chutney that is extremely aromatic, and the meat in the biryani picks up the chutney flavour too. The Burhani raita that comes alongside is a simple, spiced yogurt but so delicious I could eat a tub full.
Gobhi aur Hare Matar Ki Tehri: (Rs. 485/-)
This pulao made with cauliflower and green peas is something you’d be able to whip up in your kitchen. Nothing exceptional, except for the accompanying dahi kachumbar which I enjoyed.
Hyderabadi Masaledar Murgh Biryani: (Rs. 585/-)
This one is the traditional chicken dum biryani that we have eaten innumerable times, but a classic taste that one doesn’t grow tired of. What sets the Neel version apart is the Murgh ka salan and Burhani raita that comes alongside, and adds ‘chaar chaand’ to this traditional version.
Hyderabadi Kabuli Biryani: (Rs. 485/-)
This green variant owes its colour to the chutney in which it is cooked, owes its taste to the mustard seeds and curry leaves. The protein source in this dish is the addition of chana dal, which gives the biryani an interesting twist.
Nizami Subz Biryani: (Rs. 545/-) WINNER!
A classic Hyderabadi vegetable biryani with carrots, beans, potatoes, roasted nuts and tons of spice. Served with raita, this traditional biryani is what all good vegetable biryanis should be. I did not miss the meat one bit!
Afghani Murg Tikka Pulao: (Rs. 585/-) WINNER!
Smoky and soft reshmi kebabs cooked in spiced rice, where the rice itself carries a smokey flavor, this pulao is what dreams are made of. The salan and raita accompanying it are redundant, the well cooked chicken makes this biryani a star.
Twelve different biryanis, each delicious in their own way accompanied by wonderful company and the magical ambience that Neel at Tote on the Turf promises, this night was perfect! Even though this biryani binge eating has satiated my craving for a while, I suggest if you’re a fan of biryanis do not give this festival a miss. Worth every penny because where else can you feast like royalty?
Neel – Tote on the Turf,
Mahalaxmi Racecourse, Gate 4 & 5, Keshva Rao,
Mahalaxmi, Worli, Mumbai.
Neel, Opposite The Charcoal Project,
Off Veera Desai Road, Andheri West, Mumbai.
Neel’s Jashn-E-Biryani festival is on from the 28th November to 7th December.
(The author represented MumbaiFoodLovers for the preview of the Jashn-E-Biryani festival, and dined there on invitation.)