Ambur biryani: from kitchen of Arcot Nawabs to people’s hearts.

Once, there was a man who ate only biryani for lunch every day and for 15 years daily. Even after he grew old and shed his teeth, he still had it through then without any meat chunks. Then there was a biryani fanatic who braved the rain to eat biryani while gorging on it under a leaky roof of an eatery. You will find such stories of biryani common in the town of Ambur, located around 180 KM from Chennai.

Although it’s often the Awadhi (from Lucknow) or Hyderabadi biryani (from Hyderabad) which tops the list of biryanis in India, however, the Ambur Biryani is also one special dish which has both a unique taste and history.

Ambur is a town in Tamil Nadu which is well-acclaimed for manufacturing high-quality leather products. But there’s one more reason to fame, it’s Ambur biryani.

Located nearly halfway between Chennai and Bengaluru, Ambur used to be a significant place in the erstwhile region of Arcot, the place that was once dominated over by the Nawabs of Arcot. It was just a matter of time that this ultimate comfort food reached in this region of the country.

Ambur Biryani was introduced by the Nawabs of Arcot and was known as Arcot Biryani. It was then spread by the royal cooks in the town of Ambur and Vaniyambadi in the North-eastern region of Tamil Nadu.

The most famous and oldest establishment that serve this legendary cuisine is – Star Biryani. Back in the time when Arcot Nawabs introduced this biryani, it was one of their royal cooks – Hasin Baig who had set up this eatery.

It is believed that Hasin Baig was a royal cook in the kitchens of the Nawabs. He intended to bring this royal cuisine to the common man’s reach and for that, he opened the outlet, Star Biryani in his home town, Ambur. Later, his son Khursheed took over the business and now it is Hasin’s great-grandsons – Anees and Muneer Ahmed who are running the business successfully. The family is nurturing a 100-year-old heritage recipe.

 

Ambur mutton biryani

It was first opened as a small eatery, which has now grown into a biryani chain in the Ambur, Bangalore, and Chennai.

It is usually served with a sour brinjal curry and pachadi (a type of raita) which enhances its taste all the more.

As Anees recalls, his predecessors used ‘surdas’ variety of rice – a short & thin one and the country chicken to prepare it. However, the brothers have replaced the surdas rice with its closest contemporary – Seeraga samba, which is being supplied from West Bengal.

The biryani is prepared in the kitchens of Star Biryani which is situated on the Chennai-Bangalore highway. The biryani experts – Irfan and Krishnan prepared the it by cooking it in gigantic containers kept over wood-fired stoves. The crucial step in delivering this surreal dish is the ‘dum’ process – a procedure which involves removing the biryani container from fire and covering the lid with hot coals kept over it. This produces the steam which mixes the aroma of all the spices and gives the rice a perfect consistency.

Although it is the usual ingredients that go into making the Ambur Biryani, it might be a tad spicier than its Awadhi counterpart.

Now, if you are wondering what makes the Ambur Biryani so special? It is not majorly the ingredients or the method, but the passion – passion of the people of Ambur for this one dish that is fancied from breakfast to dinner, from homes to weddings, to roadside eateries and from a kid to aged – this biryani has become their truly beloved cuisine. Where in the other places, biryani is usually lunch or a dinner thing; here people eat it even for breakfast.

So, here’s the recipe of the delectable Ambur biryani:

Ingredients:

1 kg rice (Basmati or Seeraga Samba)

1 kg mutton, chopped

200 ml of refined oil

2 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter)

50 gm curd

300 gm tomato, finely chopped

400 gm onion, finely chopped

2 cinnamon sticks

4 cardamom pods

4 cloves

A small bunch of coriander leaves

A small bunch of mint leaves

½ lemon juice

2 green chilies

1 tsp chili powder

100 gm garlic, peeled and pounded into a paste

80 gm ginger, pounded

10 ml / 2tsp Milk

Salt to taste

 

Method:

  1. Heat oil in a cooking vessel, normally a kadai (a bowl-shaped frying pan used in Indian cooking) Add the whole spices – cinnamon, cloves and cardamoms. Wait till the spices crackle in the oil and then add half amount of onions. Stir fry it for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the ginger paste, garlic paste, the red chili powder, turmeric powder and tomatoes; mix them well and sauté stirring continously.
  3. Now, add the pieces of mutton, and remaining amount of onions, and mix them well. Also, add salt as per the taste and sauté on high heat for 5 minutes.
  4. Add curd with lemon juice and some green chillies and cook the mutton until tender, adding more water as required. The consistency for the gravy should be thick.
  5. While the mutton is being prepared, take a separate vessel to boil the rice. After the rice is three-fourth cooked, drain the excess water.
  6. Sprinkle the green coriander and mint leaves on the mutton just before you spread the strained rice over the gravy. In a small bowl, mix a pinch of red food colour with 2 tsp milk and sprinkle on the top of the rice.
  7. In a big cooking vessel, bring together the korma and the rice together and carefully arrange them in layers. As you layer them together, sprinkle the ghee over it.
  8. Close the lid of the vessel and seal the sides of the lid with flour dough to cover every inch. Place a heavy vessel like a water filled vessel to prevent lid from moving or opening.
  9. Cook the biryani on medium flame for about 15-20 minutes and turn off the heat when its aroma comes through.

Voila! Your homemade Ambur Biryani is ready. Serve it hot with raita (curd).