Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Biryani Triangle

In the age of fast food, mall food courts and home delivery, who drives 20 km (round-trip) for a Sunday take out dinner ? The answer is only the "gastronomically inclined". And so I did, hence the quick and dirty (read oily) write up.

Now before we go any further let me warn the reader that this "food" is not for the faint hearted and the diet conscious global citizen. Healthy, wholesome food be damned, at least for a Sunday dinner anyhow!!

True citizens of Calcutta vouch for the fact, that Kolkata remains a Biryani haven. Now just what and where is "The Biryani Triangle" - Park Circus. Once home(and still is) to Shiraz - The Golden Restora. Just that there is now stiff competition from a couple of new kids on the block ! The triangle consists of "Shiraz", "Zeeshan" (it started its innings in 1998), and the late entrant "Arsalan". Arsalan is pronounced as "AR sah lahn" and means "Lion" in Persian.

Drove down the By-pass (tis' the season of names changes - now known as JBS Halden Avenue) , it took me about 25 mins and an insatiable craving for a plate of Biryani, cover the distance.

First stop - "Zeeshan"(this Kolkata institution sits right next to the Park Circus Tram Depot, on the cross roads of Park Circus-Beckbagan connector and Syed Amir Ali Avenue; the road that leads to the Ice Skating Rink). The place was crowded but not maddening. Zeeshan first opened it's doors in 1998 and it has been going strong until very recently. Took a couple of pictures from across the street as I gingerly approached the restaurant entrance.

The foggy picture was due to mist on my camera lens, gives it an arty look anyhow

Brightly lit !

As luck would have it, while walking up to the cashier of the restaurant to ask a couple of questions - ran into a loyal customer who introduced himself as Jamil Akhtar. Jamil was a very friendly young man who told me more than I ever expected to know. He told me how Zeeshan opened it's door back in 1998 and there has been no looking back since. He added that the store was set-up a Muslim patriarch who had moved to Kolkata post independence and had his butcher shop across the street, diagonally. He worked hard and struck gold with his new venture; however has remained a very modest god-fearing Muslim that he always was. A man of humble beginnings - every morning, even till date, he still sets up his butcher shop. Zeeshan already has multiple locations in Kolkata besides their signature location @ Park Circus.

Jamil although a loyal customer of Zeeshan himself, frankly added that the place was slipping a couple of notches lately, and was facing stiff competition from "Arsalan" the lion of trade now ! As per Jamil - Arsalan changed the rules of the game completely and hired the best cooking crew and pays them almost twice as much as the others.

I asked Jamil, if he knew how many plates of Biryani does he think Zeeshan sells on Any Given Sunday. He said that was really a difficult call and could not come up with a number, but did add that Zeeshan sells more "Rolls" than any one else in the area. Getting hungrier by the minute now and smell of food was overtaking the will to get more for this blog, so I let it be and thanked Jamil and moved on to click a few more pictures.

The cook you see in the foreground is "Mohammed Shabdul" a resident of North Dinajpur

Mohammed Shabdul a shy young man, hesitatingly shook my hand and was happy to pose for some pictures.

Mohammed Shabdul @ work !

Am sure most of you have already had food at Zeeshan, feel free by posting your comments about your food experience @ Zeeshan.

Only about a 1/4 of km, Arsalan sits pretty ! I drove around the Park Circus circle and slowly approached Arsalan. Was by an Arsalan parking attendant, who was wielding a "lathi" and navigating cars and bikes in and out of curb-side parking. I followed the lathi and parked hesitatingly.

Was welcome by a sea of people and I knew instantly - Jamil was right. This place was almost 5 times as busy as Zeeshan, there were waiters in uniforms, plain-clothed Arsalan men, managers, and customers. The place almost wore a look of an Indian wedding where you really do not, who is who !

I approached a waiter in uniform who offered a "Take Away" menu and asked me to place the order with the cashier and give him the receipt, he said he would get my order in less than 10 minutes, while there was may be a half hour wait if I went through the process meant for mere mortals. He did not quote a price, but being worldly wise enough to know that I had to tip him some. In other words, he just made an offer I couldn't refuse. I let the hunger pangs get the better of morality. After quickly browsing through the menu and calling my wife, ordered the following:

1. Chicken Biryani (Arsalan Special)
2. Tandoori Chicken Butter Masala
3. Chicken Bhartha
4. Roomali Roti

Overheard a customer being told that there was an hour's wait for being seated, if one wanted to dine in. Arsalan has a general sitting area on the street level, and there is a second floor air-conditioned seating guarded by a well fed Arsalan employee, doing the job of a bouncer.

Now at this place - no one had any time to spare; leave alone time to answer questions of an insipid blogger. So better sense prevailed and I saved my questions for another day and simply clicked pictures amidst a sea of customers - some waiting to be seated, while others waiting to get their take away order. Some people looked at me strangely and might have mistook me for some kind of a journalist or a correspondent of a TV channel as they saw me feverishly clicking away !

Sunday evening crowd @ Arsalan

Culinary artists @ work

I finally got my order served and bagged for me to take away in just about 12 mins. Was a happy camper, and tipping the waiter 20 bucks for a prompt service; I jumped into my car and drove off !

After having had Biryani a number of places, I call all Biryani lovers - Take a bow ladies and gentlemen - the "Lion" of Biryani makers has arrived and its name is "AR sah lahn"

You may browse through all the pictures I took, right here right now !



5 comments:

  1. Your blog and pictures made my mouth water with the happy memories of the smell and taste of the Kolkata Biriyani. I guess Arsalan and Zeeshan are toddlers compared to the legends of the old - Amenia, Shiraz, Rahmania, Badsha et al.

    The Hyderabadi, Delhi-wali and Luckhnowi has its own attraction but Kolkata Biriyani is some how different and special. It is cooked in the "Yakhni" style (where the meat with bones is boiled along with a spice bag of ginger, garlic and onion) and then added to rice stirred in ghee. I guess an attar(essence) is used to enhance the flavour also.

    As part of my annual pilgrimage to India that I make it a point to have a taste of the happy memories. I look forward to more in this blog to schedule my "food-to-do-list".

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Saikat - Apropos Amenia, Shiraz, Rahmania: I agree Zeeshan and Arsalan are toddlers, but they are beating the grand old daddies of Biryani at their own game.

    Amenia - Heard a lot about this age old eatery, never had the good fortune of eating here, will do soon.

    Shiraz - believe it or not has lost it's touch, they have even gone to multiple locations, and there is one in Salt Lake too, not franchised out but self-owned. The one in Salt Lake is so filthy that it makes my skin crawl. So do not go to it. I am yet to visit the one on Park Circus recently, will do it as part of continuing coverage of 'The Biryani Triangle'

    Rahmania - I am yet to visit their original Park Circus location. They too like Shiraz have several locations now. I know there is 2 in Salt Lake, one in Lake Town, one in Shyambazar. We used to order regularly from the one close to our house - the Biryani itself is not bad, however they still use "Dalda" or "frozen vegetable oil" which really sticks to the roof of your mouth and it is not something I don't care for as an after food experience.

    Badshah - I am not sure if Badshah was every really known for their Biryanis. I can still vouch for their rolls. I have lost count of how many times this place has opened and closed due to labour union problems. And now they sell everything - chinese, indian, biryani, kebabs. Sadly it has become a "roll-chowmien" place. Their rolls have still remained amazing though.

    Oh BTW - You missed out on another Biryani biggie, that people swear by - "Royal" on Chitpur road is a tradition of it's own. I hear they are joining the band-wagon on Park Circus soon.

    More Biryani and food stuff to follow on this blog, keep watching this space for more action !

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting read. These old-time biryani places are hard to find. Glad Calcutta has retained its glory.

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  4. Amenia - Not even worth thinking of a try any more.

    Shiraz - Never changed its flavor in the last ten
    ears,is a bit boring now....

    Rahmania - Lake Town Branch makes the best rolls
    on earth :)

    Shabbir - Rezalaaaa

    Royal (chitpur) - "Used to" be something great.... been dissapointed twice....by the way they still sell Awadhi biriyani, no potato in their pot....

    Royal Garden ( beside Nizam's at Esplanade ) : The only place to sell a descent beef biriyani, by descent I mean the meat is awesome .

    Rose (kakurgachi) : Damn descent "dum" biriyani..... punjabi style

    And there are literally thousands of places , well hidden, throughout the city, were you can find
    "moghlai" food..... some better than others ..... these are well kept secrets ;)

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  5. @Alubhai - thanks for your comments and listing of some hot spots !

    ReplyDelete

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