Arcot Biriyani

21 Feb

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21-02-2017, 18:15 hrs

Sitting in Bangalore in 2017, “Arcot”, the name of a Tamilnadu district, typically conjures up for me, images of fragrant “South Indian” Biriyani known as “Arcot Biriyani”.

Within this overall category, there are two sub-regional variations: Ambur Star Biriyani and Arani Star Biriyani.

The distances below give an idea of the scatter of the sub-regional towns.

Vellore to Ambur – 52 km
Ambur to Arani – 81 km
Arani to Arcot – 28 km
Arcot to Vellore – 25 km

One has to understand how the Mughal administration structure was organised to understand how Islam and Mughalai cuisine travelled to different parts of the Indian sub-continent.

Until at least the death of Aurangazeb in 1707, the Emperor in Delhi (theoretically) ruled over all the subordinate states in the subcontinent.

The Nawab of Oudh (Lucknow) headed what was arguably one of the better known Governorships due to its proximity to Delhi. Lucknow claims a superior biriyani citing their Persian, Shia connection and the 72 ingredients that went into the dish.

The Nizam of Hyderabad was the Subhadar of the Deccan with several Nawabs and Sultans under his authority. Hyderabadi Biriyani is famous and also has a link with Persia or Iran. This connection explains the use of dry fruits in the preparation of the biriyani.

The Nawab of Carnatic (also known as the Nawab of Arcot) occupied an important position in this structure since both Madras (HQ of East India Company) and Pondicherry (HQ of French East India Company) were within his territory. The Arcot Biriyani is virtually unknown in North India and is known as “Ambur Biriyani” in Karnataka and Andhra.

Arcot Biriyani has sub-regional variations as pointed out at the beginning of this blog. For reasons which were not very clear to me, Arcot Biriyani is known as “Arcot ‘Star’ Biriyani”. We hear of Ambur ‘Star’ Biriyani and ‘Arani’ Star Biriyani.

My taxi driver Suresh and I went to “The New 5-Star Biriyani Centre” on Gandhi Road in Arni for lunch.

Seeing the large portions, I ordered only a quarter plate, while the young Suresh happily tucked into a half plate.

To be very frank, I was a bit disappointed with the biriyani. Usually curd is used to marinade the mutton and add a sour note to the biriyani. In addition, I found the Arani Star Biriyani used tomatoes which give a distinctive wilted vegetable smell to the biriyani. Lucknow biriyani uses “Aloo Bukhare” a sour plum for a sweet and sour flavour.

I spoke to the head cook, a ferocious looking bearded Musalman with a skull cap. He had a surprisingly soft voice and told me that he partly cooks rice and mutton separately, then combines them for the final round of “Dhum” cooking where the aluminium vessel is ‘sealed’ with atta dough.

I have a friend with a wide knowledge of Southern Tamilnadu cuisine. She thought I should have gone to Ambur for lunch, but Arani is a close second. She also told me not to miss the local sweet, “Makhan Pedha“.

It seems to have been a bad day for me because I was headed for another disappointment. I bought 200 gms of Makhan Pedha for Rs.85. The sweet looked suspiciously like a flattened Gulab Jamun… I bit into one, and horror of gastronomic horrors, it tasted like Gulab Jamun too.

Dodging traffic on the completely chaotic and congested roads, Suresh driver and I made our way on foot to where the car was parked. We had to visit the Arani “Fort” close to where the Battle of Arani took place on 3 Dec 1751, where Dupleix’ dreams of French supremacy in the Carnatic were unambiguously shattered by Robert Clive. Little wonder that the British government bestowed on him the title of “Clive of India”.

(635 Words)

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