Dubai: The perfect plate? Biryani unites, divides residents

With over 50 varieties of this dish flourishing within the city's borders, each proponent fervently touts their rendition as the epitome of perfection

by

Mazhar Farooqui

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Published: Sun 21 May 2023, 11:06 PM

Last updated: Mon 22 May 2023, 10:14 AM

Dubai is a city of boundless opportunities, where towering skyscrapers and bustling shopping malls merely scratch the surface of what it has to offer. Yet, beyond the glitz and glamour lies a treasure that has captured the hearts and taste buds of both Emiratis and expats alike - the biryani.

With each restaurant offering its own unique version of the beloved delicacy, biryani has become an integral part of the city’s food culture and the quest to find the perfect plate remains a thrilling adventure.

The rice and meat dish possesses the remarkable ability to unite people through its flavours. Paradoxically, it has also stirred intense divisions, giving rise to never-ending biryani wars among passionate residents and perpetuating a state of culinary confusion.

Some swear by the traditional Hyderabadi biryani, with its layers of seasoned meat and saffron-flecked rice sealed under a lid of dough and then steamed in the traditional preparation called dum.

Others wouldn't settle for anything less than the Awadhi biryani from Lucknow, renowned for its delicate flavours, subtle aromas, and refined character. Many prefer the spicier version from Chennai, with chili pepper and acidity from tomatoes. And some enthusiasts swear by the potato-studded biryani from Kolkata’s Arsalan chain of restaurants, which recently expanded to Dubai.

Pakistani biryani has also long enjoyed unwavering popularity in the city. Daily Restaurant, Pak Liyari, Student Biryani and Karachi Darbar are among many restaurants that have been tantalising the tastebuds in the culinary capital of the Middle East with their unique blend of aromatic spices and flavours that reflect the rich culinary heritage of the country. Dubai also boasts of the exotic Persian biryani as well as a biryani made from camel meat.

But amidst all the rivalry, certain establishments have not only endured but have risen to the forefront, establishing themselves as the definitive destinations for biryani enthusiasts.

Among them, Bhatkal Restaurant stands out as a prominent contender. Tucked away in the unassuming Al Ras area of Deira, this hidden gem has been delighting biryani lovers for over five decades. Meanwhile, in the vibrant core of Sharjah's Yarmouk neighbourhood, Silver Spoon reigns supreme as the ultimate haven for discerning connoisseurs of Hyderabadi biryani. With its universal appeal, it captivates diners across cultural backgrounds.

“Surprisingly, the majority of our clientele comprises Emiratis," revealed Abdul Jabbar, a seasoned manager with over 17 years of experience at the helm of this remarkable eatery. Silver Spoon offers a delectable plate of mutton or chicken biryani at an affordable price of Dh21.

"From being an employee at a restaurant, my father has now become the proud owner of one. The key to our popularity lies in our closely guarded secret recipe and the use of only the freshest meats," Jabbar explained.

Among the newcomers catering to those with a preference for the Awadhi rendition of biryani, Via Lucknow and Lucknow Rasoi have made their mark in Dubai. Shahid, representing Via Lucknow, drew a fascinating analogy while expressing his admiration for the fragrant Awadhi biryani.

"The debate about the finest biryani is reminiscent of the discourse surrounding the supreme mango variety. While some advocate for Alphonso and others champion Sidri, true connoisseurs who have relished the Dussheri variety possess the ultimate insight," he said.

Siraj, the proprietor of Lucknow Rasoi, resonated with this sentiment, stating, "Lucknow biryani appeals to all the senses, encompassing aroma, texture, visual appeal, and, naturally, taste." He firmly dismissed the inclusion of eggs and potatoes in biryani, considering it a culinary sacrilege. "Such additions are a travesty," he declared.

As a result of the city's diverse population, new variations of biryani continue to emerge, enriching its ever-evolving culinary landscape. Even the most upscale dining establishments have joined the creative wave and embraced the trend.

A distinguished restaurant located at DIFC has recently introduced an extravagant creation that carries a substantial price tag of Dh1,000.

The culinary masterpiece is adorned with exquisite 23 karat edible gold, adding to its opulence. Picture succulent lamb seekh kababs, tender lamb chops, chicken kababs, and a delectable malai chicken roast, all luxuriously embellished with delicate gold leaves and elegantly presented on a bed of saffron-infused biryani.

However, purists remain devoted to the traditional essence of biryani. "While the possibilities of incorporating prawns, fish, vegetables, or any other ingredients into biryani are endless, there is an undeniable truth: mutton biryani stands alone," asserted Amjad Ali, a passionate food enthusiast hailing from North India.

As the biryani wars in Dubai rage on, the battle extends beyond mere taste and delves into the realms of tradition and personal preferences. With over 50 distinct varieties of this cherished dish flourishing within the city's borders, each proponent fervently touts their rendition as the epitome of perfection. Yet, the truth remains elusive: Is every version truly the pinnacle of excellence, or does a singular victor emerge amidst this culinary chaos? The answer continues to elude us, encouraging further debate and exploration of Dubai's diverse and mouthwatering biryani scene.

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