The tantalising fragrance of the biryani wafts through the area as the seal of giant cauldrons set up over wood fire are opened at every wedding in Bhatkal’s Navayath community.
The aroma is the surest sign that the famous Bhatkal biryani is ready to be served.
A regular weekly feature in every Navayath home, Bhatkal biryani has now crossed boundaries. Many other communities, too, relish the delectable fare.
The Navayaths are an ethnic group of Muslims tracing their lineage to the inhabitants of South Arabia. A community of traders, Navayaths arrived in India by the sea and settled down in Bhatkal, a picturesque coastal town in Karnataka, more than 1,200 years ago. The word Navayaths means newcomers.
The Navayaths are known for their sumptuous culinary traditions. Despite the community’s roots in Arabia, their cuisine carries little Arabic influence and, to most extent, is dominated by strands of local culture, which the Navayaths adopted over time. The Bhatkal biryani is this culinary tradition’s crowning jewel.
The biryani is made from heavily steamed tender mutton (or chicken or seafood) ensconced under the mound of velvety saffron-spiked rice tinged with birista (deep-fried onion). Media reports routinely list it among the tastiest biryanis in India.
Half-cooked on dum – on slow flame in a sealed container – and served with raita, the Bhatkal biryani is eaten by rolling the rice and the meat that are served separately and then mixed in the plate. Goat/lamb meat (mutton) is traditionally used for biryani, but chicken and buffalo meat are also widely used. Fish and prawn biryani are equally relished. While various other biryanis use the kaima or jeerakasala rice, the Bhatkal biryani, like its Awadhi version, uses only the long-grain basmati rice. The meat and the rice are prepared separately and layered together for a final dum, sealing the lid with dough or a tight lid and placing red-hot charcoals above the lid.
Farhiin Mohtisham, a well-known Dubai-based food blogger who co-hosts the Taste of Bhatkal YouTube channel, spells out what distinguishes Bhatkal biryani from other mainline biryanis.
“The Bhatkal biryani is unique in its own taste. The visible differences that distinguish it from all the other biryanis are its distinct aroma and exceptionally appetizing taste. Then there’s the abundant use of onions without adding any masala powders to it, except while boiling the rice, that too with the whole garam masala. Biryani rice and the rice masala are served separately and then mixed in the plate. This is totally different from other biryanis.”
Asked about the secret to making the perfect biryani, the highly talented Farhiin says, “To prepare a delicious and mouth-watering Bhatkal biryani, I would recommend using an ample amount of onions that are well-cooked, similar to the consistency of korma, and yes, my little secret ingredient is a spoon of yogurt that’ll add up some great flavor to the biryani.”
For Saaqib Musba, a Navayath who runs the Big Daddy’s Kitchen in Bengaluru’s HBR Layout area, using onion, tomato and green chilly, and shunning masala powders give the Bhatkal biryani a taste of its own.
There is another variant of Bhatkal biryani. The vermicelli Bhatkal biryani is also a big hit as it is mostly eaten as supper. Its preparation is identical, except for replacing rice with vermicelli. For those who want to try out the Bhatkal biryani in Dubai, the Bhatkal Restaurant in Al Ras area is the perfect destination. Founded half a century ago, Bhatkal Restaurant in Dubai’s Deira area has grown into an iconic food joint.
Its co-owner Mohammed Ghouse Khalifa recalls how it all began. The year was 1972. Siddique Hassan from Bhatkal, a small town on the western coast of India, opened a small eatery called Al Siddique Restaurant.
He believed in serving high-quality traditional food at reasonable prices to people hailing from Bhatkal and the surrounding places. He believed in serving high quality traditional food at reasonable rates to people hailing from Bhatkal and the surroundings. Free meals were offered to those in need till they were employed, Khalifa says.
Siddique Ebrahim, another co-owner, adds: “Though the name has changed from Al Siddique Restaurant to Bhatkal Restaurant, its values, food and service haven’t.”
With the UAE being the melting pot of cultures, Bhatkal Restaurant is keeping up with the evolving palates. The eatery now serves more than the traditional Bhatkal food. “We have added a variety of Indian, Tandoor and Chinese delicacies to our menu,” he says.
When it comes to the Bhatkal biryani, the restaurant serves chicken and mutton biryani every day. Fish biryani is available only on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays while beef biryani is served on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Prawns biryani is available on Thursdays, says Salman Khaliq Khan, the restaurant manager.
Chefs at the eatery also rustle up a wide variety of traditional breakfast dishes of the Navayath community from Bhatkal. Fish curry, fish fry, whole fish grilled marinated in traditional spices, king fish thick masala, etc, are some of the other dishes available. Home delivery and take-aways available besides dine-in.
(Recipe by: Farhiin Mohtisham)
Basmati rice: 4 cups
Cinnamon stick : 2
Onions, large: 8-10, sliced onions: approx 1kg
Chicken/beef/ prawns/fish: 500gms
Tomatoes: 1, chopped + 1, sliced
Ginger garlic paste: 1tsp
Turmeric powder: ½ tsp
Yogurt: 1 tbsp
Salt: to taste
Orange red food colouring, saffron soaked in 1/8 cup of milk
Deep-fried onion (birista) to sprinkle
1) Heat 4-5 tbsps of oil in a pressure cooker. Add onions, chillies, salt. Cook till 1-2 whistles. Turn off the flame.
2) Open the cooker. Stir onion and cook it on high flame till all water has been soaked and onion turns golden brown.
3) Add chopped tomato and cook for 5 mins.
4) Add ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder and cook for 2 mins.
5) Add yogurt and cook till the consistency becomes thick and dark brown.
6) Add chicken and a little chopped coriander leaves and cook on a low flame till it becomes tender.
7) In another large utensil, boil water add garam masala, salt, 1tsp vinegar and rice. Cook till it done.
8) Drain rice in a strainer.
9) Transfer the chicken biryani masala in a large utensil. Spread evenly at the bottom.
10) Then spread half quantity of rice evenly.
11) Sprinkle yellow colour or saffron soaked in milk, some fried onions, chopped coriander and 3-4 slices of tomato.
12) Assemble the remaining rice and spread evenly.
13) Pour 1/3 cup of oil over the biryani. Simmer on low flame.
Note : For fish biryani, spread biryani masala on a flat rectangular or round pan and arrange fish slices. Apply masala on fish with spoon and cook it on a low flame. Then carefully flip the slices of fish and cook for 2-3 mins. Then transfer pan into a preheated oven, on top flame and bake it for 10-15 min on 170 degrees. Remove from oven and then spread rice on it. Follow from step 11 and cover the pan with foil, and simmer it
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