Dhaka’s Biryani – A Taste of Aristocracy

Sometimes it’s greasy and sometimes it’s dry. But it’s always spicy. It’s a dish full of long-grain rice that will not stick together and holds a succulent piece of meat inside it. It’s pleasantly aromatic, but not too sharp. The lovely aroma of spice and the delightful sight of the dish bring water to your mouth. And when you taste it, the subtle flavor and taste of the spices mildly and pleasantly come through. It’s well-cooked, flavorsome, succulent and delicious. And once you start eating, you will end up cleaning your plate down to the last grain of rice.

That is a plate of delicious Biryani placed in front of you. Biryani is perhaps the most popular rice based dish in the world that is available in many forms. Though, this dish is known as a traditional famous Indian cuisine to the world, Biryani from Dhaka means something very special to the food lovers. Traditional Indian Biryani has a number of variants like Hyderabadi Biryani, Afghani Biryani, Sindhi Biryani, Lucknowi Biryani etc. which clearly represents the different preparation for different states of India. But Biryani from Dhaka has mostly two variations, Kachhi Biryani and Chicken Biryani. Kachhi Biryani is cooked with mutton (and rarely with beef) while Chicken Biryani has chicken as its meat ingredient. In the Indian preparation, the long grain Bashmati rice is used for Biryani. But most recipes of Biryani from Dhaka use the Bangladeshi ‘Kali-Jira’ rice, very fine polao rice which is produced only in the northern districts like Dinajpur.

Biryani is derived from a Persian word ‘beryan’ which means ‘fried’ or ‘roasted’. It is believed that Biryani was brought to the Indian subcontinent by the Muslim travelers and merchants from Arab. However, there is also another saying regarding the origin of Biryani. In the war time during the Mughal period, the soldiers were provided one item meal. Rice and meat were cooked together and served. Later, such recipe was introduced more formally in the royal dining and eventually become immensely popular throughout the rice-eater community in Indian subcontinent.

There are numerous fast food restaurants throughout the city of Dhaka these days and the number is just growing up. Even international fast food chains like KFC and Pizza Hut has a number of their outlets at different city points. Despite the dominance of fast food, particularly with the young generation, Biryani still has its very special place in the heart of the citizens. “Almost each Friday morning we have a special cricket match with our college mates and the losing team has to treat the winners a special meal with Biryani. We visit different restaurants each week to taste different Biryani. But we just never get enough of it!” said by Sabbir Iqbal, a 29 year old executive who is working with Banglalink.

Biryani is so popular at this part of the world that wedding or any other ceremonies will almost certainly have Biryani in its menu. “I got married almost 34 years back. By that time, Dhaka was not today’s Dhaka. Things have changed so much since then. But few things do remain same as it was decades before. Menu of my wedding receptions had Biryani then and it still has today. My younger daughter is about to get married in next January and surely Biryani is going to be served as main course. We ‘Dhakaiya’ (residents of old Dhaka who lives there for many years) people cannot think of our any celebrations without dishes full of delicious Biryani,” proudly said by Fazley Noman, a 60 year old retired person who has been living in the Rankin Street, Wari ever since he was born.

Although, Biryani is counted as the heritage food of old Dhaka, there are a number of food shops around the new city as well which serve fine quality of Biryani. “We like fast food menus like pizza, pasta or burgers while we hang out with friends but whenever there is any special occasion to celebrate like birthday or something, Biryani from Malancha or Khushbu restaurant is our first preference,” this is the statement of Nusrat Khandker, a 21 year old student from University of Dhaka. Dhaka’s Biryani is not only available in Dhaka. It has spread through hundreds of sub continental restaurants in many big cities of the world. Nishat Afza, a 34 year old NRB living in London and currently visiting her homeland mentioned, “Once in a while, we go out for a meal and often we ended up visiting the famous Dhaka Biryani House located at Mile End Road to get a taste from Bangladesh.”

Whenever you talk about the Biryani from Dhaka, the first name that comes up is Fakhruddin’s Biryani. The dish is named after the famous chef late Mohammad Farkhruddin, who was known more as ‘Fakhruddin Baburchi’ (Baburchi is the Bangla synonym for chef). He started serving snacks for the students of Viqarunnisa Noon School (a renowned all-girls school in Dhaka) students during the mid eighties and eventually became famous for his great Biryani recipes. Soon his recipes become a pinnacle and today it has become a symbol of upper crust to entertain the guests of any function with Fakhruddin’s Biryani. The famous chef died back in 1997 but his sons are still serving his recipe with 3 exclusive outlets in Dhaka city, located respectively at Dhanmondi, Gulshan and Uttara. Although Fakhruddin’s restaurants are famous for its Kachhi Biryani, it serves top class Chicken Biryani and Borhani (A kind of yogurt drink) as well.

Haji’s Biryani is another name that shines when you think about Dhaka’s Biryani. It was established by Haji Ahmed Ali (Haji is not a part of their family title, it is use to show that he has performed the Hajj) way back in 1939 at the Monir Hossain Lane in Narinda, Wari. Today, the main restaurant is located at Kazi Alauddin Road, Nazira Bazar. The Biryani from Haji is very unique as it is served dry (most Biryani are cooked with a lot of oil). Another interesting fact about this restaurant is that it starts serving after Asr prayer and mostly sold out by the Isha prayer. “The restaurant remains so crowded during the business hours that most people have to wait for at least 15-20 minutes before they get an emty seat,”  said by Haji Md. Sahed Hossain, the current owner of Haji’s Biryani and second son of late Haji Ahmed Ali. He also added, “Due to enormous public demand, we have recently opened our first branch at Progoti Sharani.”

Another prominent name in the Biryani world of Dhaka is “Nanna Miah’s” Biryani. Situated in the Nazimuddin Road of Old Dhaka (beside the Dhaka Central Prison), “Nanna Miah’s” Biryani is famous for the unique ‘Chicken Kachhi’ preparation. Only chicken is used for Biryani here. They have two recipes- ‘Chicken Kachhi’ and ‘Chicken Pakki’. “I come to old Dhaka at least once in a month for two things- Nanna’s Biryani and Beauty’s Sharbat (a kind of drink). I’ll miss them more than anything once I settle myself abroad” said by Porag, a 24 year old man who is migrating to Canada soon.

Star Restaurant is another landmark for serving delicious Biryani. The principal branch of the restaurant is located at B.C.Roy Road in Alu Bajar, Sutrapur which was established almost 45 years back. But it gained enormous fame when they launched their own five storied restaurant in Dhanmondi, the city’s heart place. “This is the biggest restaurant of the country that serves deshi food and we sell around 8,000 plates of Biryani each day,” said by Sheikh Mizan, floor manager of the Star Restaurant.

Apart from the above mentioned there are several other restaurants which also serves various Biryani dishes with their own special flavor. Dolma House of Motijheel is famous for its ‘Dolma Biryani’, prepared with both meat and vegetable. Karai Gosto, a restaurant in Dhanmondi serves its unique ‘Motor Biryani’, that use beans along with their benchmark menu called ‘Karai Gosto.’ Besides, there are few restaurants in Dhaka who serves Indian Biryani with the local flavor. Dhaaba, an Indian food shop, serves ‘Hyderabadi Dum Biryani’ that is cooked in a ‘Kachhi’ style. Voot, another upscale restaurant in Dhaka has their special ‘Maharani Biryani’ that is cooked in South Indian flavor and uses a lot of spice. There is also a tiny restaurant in city’s Lalmatia named as ‘Swaad Tehari Ghar’ which is very famous for its Tehari, a variant of Biryani. Tehari is cooked with less oil and thus more dry than Biryani and mostly use beef for meat. Interestingly, in India, Tehari is referred to vegetarian version of Biryani.

There is a large selection of foods in Dhaka that are tasty, delicious and made with local flavor. But not many of them are famous worldwide. Biryani of Dhaka is one of those few ones that have earned the love of food lovers across the world. According to Google Insight (Google’s Keyword tracking service), Biryani is the most searched recipe in regards of Bangladeshi foods. If anyone visits Dhaka, one should be prepared to have at least one hearty meal of Biryani with its sweet spicy aroma.