By itself, Biryani (as the Indian subcontinent largely knows it) is a full meal. And therein lies its widespread appeal across restaurant menus and taste buds alike.
Especially, if you do not restrict yourself to vegetarian options in food, Biryani of all kinds would easily have crossed your palates when exploring cuisines of South Asia. At an early age, yours truly was drawn to this dish due to its lip-smacking and finger-licking taste regardless of the preparation type or spice mix.
What started out as a preferred dish when ordering at restaurants, gradually evolved into an exploratory tale for me – across cities, countries and continents. I have the had the fortune of gorging on some of the best biryanis, at home and restaurants alike. And I also hope to someday lay my hands on the ones that are still stuck on the wish-list.
In this post, I have tried to put together an analysis that has relied solely on my taste buds – for over a decade. This spans over five hundred restaurants in about a hundred cities across two scores of countries. A journey that was never about pitting one style against the other or going by and vouching for ratings that flash on the menu-scanning apps; there are three key beliefs that emerged in my quest for Biryani –
- If someone tells you one style of biryani is better than the other, say the Hyderabadi is better than the Awadhi or how Mughlai is what Moradabadi aspires to be – it is almost always a personal preference or the love for your local preparation. There is no absolute best in terms of cooking style.
- Most biryanis served in restaurants, across the parts of the world I have been to, are hastily done ‘Pilaf/Pulao’ in varying degrees. Trying to differentiate a biryani from a pulao may be understandable but not discriminating against different styles of biryani – steer clear of suggesting ‘Who makes Biryani with potatoes?’ at the sight in Calcutta, it only shows the lack of knowledge of different styles.
- I will always subject a Biryani sample to three test criteria –
- Repeat Value: How many times can you ask for this same dish when you return to this location?
- Willingness to Consume: Can you consume a standard serving of this dish on a full stomach?
- Taste Quotient: The must-have in any food preparation – simply rate the taste
If you look closely, the third factor is often one aspect of a culinary assessment – plating, ambience, service etc. there are several other factors at play; which may be great for rating a restaurant, but when it comes to the quest for the undisputed biryani of choice, I will go with the first two qualifiers to determine how good the biryani is.
For example, I may find the taste of a sample an absolute delight – but it will still not be a blockbuster, if I feel full too soon or if I am willing to part with it on a subsequent visit. As a matter of fact, I subject any preparation I come up with in my kitchen to the same test. There are no distractions when it comes to the ultimate Biryani – no plating, no salaan, no raita can come in the way of this quest.
The legend in the tables below indicates the coverage across countries when it comes to having a biryani on my trips. There are three categories of locations –
- Sampled: Locations where I have tasted just one sample of biryani
- Surveyed: Locations where I have tasted more than one but less than ten samples
- Seasoned: Locations where I have tasted more than ten samples
Here are the top ten that I have rated in this exercise, and a few more that ran close – but by no means is the quest for the ultimate over. This will always be, a work in progress.