Biryani Wars in Chennai

about Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Chennai again drew me to a forgettably convenient meal at Saravana Bhavan. I find the food utterly pedestrian, but somehow the sheer convenience of this Wal-Mart of Udipis sneaks me in. Yes, they have every kind of food on earth - I noticed Lebanese and fusion this time (vegetarian is probably the only reason sushi is left out). Unfortunately, its all fairly dull routine stuff. Not incompetent, but about as exciting as a Michael Jackson rendition of Bach to a western classical fan.

Luckily, that’s not all I ate in Chennai. My visits to Chennai aren’t very frequent, but I’ve noticed on my last few trips an increasing proliferation of signs announcing biryani. Unlike Mumbai (where nearly every eatery offers biryani right next to manchurian in an encyclopaedia of a menu) these places  headlining it, staking its Thalapakkattureputation and business model on the mutton and chicken variants of this one dish. All very interesting for the biryani lover.

It was this in mind that I got my host of the day to take me to a biryani place for lunch. We headed into Triplicane, which I was told was the Muslim heart of Chennai, and promptly encountered clusters of biryani signboards, each offering mutton, chicken, veg and a few other variants. They all seemed to dole out the stuff from these huge aluminium degchis in the front. I was guided to what was supposed to be the best known – Thalappakattu Biryani, right on the main road and bustling with customers and noticeably more prosperous than some of the others. It turned out to be a chain too, about 14 branches all over Chennai.
We ordered a classic mutton biryani each, and were promptly handed a plastic tv-dinner plate with baingan pachadi and onions coated with yoghurt (basically a dry onion raita). The biryani itself came, somewhat intriguingly, in plastic cello-like casseroles, one per person. Each portion comes with a boiled egg.

The eggs and casseroles stand waiting above a nearly empty degchi Now to the meat of the matter – the biryani itself was indeed quite good. Its the dry fragrant lucknow-calcutta style made with Basmati, not the curryrice mumbai style that is the despair of so many true biryani lovers. The bustling place does incredibly well – we got the last plates of mutton and even chicken was nearly empty by the time I took the photograph. They also have a special version (couldn’t figure the difference out) and a Moglay version that has eggs scrambled in to the rice in addition to the boiled egg. Stick to the classic, is my advice.

My host explained the origin of the rather odd name thus – Thalappakattu means headgear in Tamil. It supposedly comes from the traditional habit that biryani vendors had of tying the biryani pots with their headgear when putting the biryani on dum. My friend is convinced this is a traditional Triplicane biryani joint, and this headgear thing is how they have done it for decades – he’s been having it since childhood, he says. When I asked, however, the man at the counter told me the shop was thirty years old – still in the decades but not quite as old as all that. The website, interestingly, says “since 1990” while the newspaper articles say the chain was started in 2004. Ah, the powers of branding…

A little googling dug up some intrigue – Thalappakatti Naidu Biriyani Hotel from Dindigul founded in 1957, not affiliated with the Chennai variant, claims to be the origin of the stuff. The single Dindigul shop is supposedly quite famous, counting politicians and actors such as Sivaji Ganesan as regulars. They also have a more convincing story about the name – apparently the owner used to wear a headdress to hide his bald pate, and was therefore nicknamed Thalappakatti Naidu (hence the name of the eatery). The Chennai version, on the other hand, was started in Koyambedu by a young entrepreneur called Hashnas from Kerala less than a decade ago, in 2004 (the 1990 on the website refers, I think, to the original non-biryani restaurant his father ran). Hashnas seems to have no obvious connection to either headgear or chennai’s version of biryani – his father ran a highway eatery in Payoli in Kerala. However, given the current rash of biryani places in Chennai claiming to be headgear related, I must say Hashnas has done a wonderful job of brand building.

Of course, the Dindigul original sued, and the courts finally decided to let both exist, so now the Chennai variant is called Chennai Rawther Thalappakattu Biryani (Rawther, in case you’re wondering, is a community of Tamil Muslims). The Dindigul version, meanwhile, has just opened a Chennai branch so now you can find out for yourself which one is the original – and more importantly – which one is better. A key point of difference is that the Dindigul one uses Seeragasamba rice (a native Tamil rice that I’ve been told absorbs flavours very well and so is great for biryani); the Chennai upstart meanwhile uses regular north-indian basmati.

Let the wars begin…

8 comments:

  1. I stayed with a friend at Chennai years back after I had moved to Mumbai. They'd called for biriyani one night. It was so like calcutta biryani. I sobbed in joy.

    Your expedition bears that out. Am surprised that their biriyani doesn't have coconut though

    ReplyDelete
  2. BEST BIRYANI IN CHENNAI - HAJEERAS KITCHEN.

    There is no way finding fault with Hajeeras Kitchen hygenic foods quality, quantity, packings or the home delivery service.

    The best in town.

    Previously I was quite stunned with the prices on the menu list uploaded here on Zomato.

    But later after my few orders I experienced personally that the quality and quantity of the foods Hajeeras Kitchen serves is outstanding! Awesome!

    Even then I was bit doubtful and yesterday I just planned for a surprise visit with my wife to their newly opened kitchen near Guindy Railway Station, Off Vandikaran Road.

    Before us there were 3 guys waiting to get their biryani pax.

    1st we were invited with pleasant smile and a glass of water. Its a small house which is converted into a catering service unit. We found it was their own building when we enquired from the manager.

    We went there around 2pm and by that time the 1st session biryani was over and the biryani expert was preparing or almost prepared the 2nd round.

    We were asked to wait for 15 minutes as the biryani was in the dum.

    We made ourself comfortable and checked with the other menus available.

    Out comes the assistant cook and he explained to us well about the menu and the preparations in our own comfortable language Hindi.

    After few minutes we were allowed to take a look at their kitchen and the cooking products they were using.

    They use Lal Qilla Brand Basmathi rice for biryani and only Gold Winner Sunflower oil for cooking. That was clearly said everywhere online as well. But still we had a small doubt as most of the biryani vendors use the low quality basmathi rice and cooking oils. Our doubt was cleared there.

    We ordered only four mutton dum biryani's and Chicken Lollypop. Both were of great taste and I promise or bet anyone that I've never tasted such a wonderful biryani and crystal clear onion and carrot mixed raitha.

    It was a very pleasant drive to Hajeeras Kitchen last afternoon with my wife and we were really happy with the food and above all the unique packings of the foods were quite amazing as well. Keep serving the best foods!!!

    Truely Highly Recommended!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. U r the owner of that joint right? Stop ur advertisement lol: D

      Delete
  3. Best Biryani In Chennai is Hajeeras Kitchen's.

    Its true what Lavanya said. I had the same experience.

    Great biryani, quality, quantity and pleasing service by Hajeeras Kitchen staff members.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  5. There is a new Biryani Startup in Chennai ! Delicious biryani at delivered at your doorstep www.alameenfoods.co.in

    ReplyDelete


  6. Report Bugs Topic tells about the bug reports of this blogs....


    Catering in Chennai

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