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Wah, Taj!

The 70-year-old Taj Hotel near Russell Market makes the best traditional biriyani in Bangalore. The food is so irresistible that even high-profile politicians and film stars throng the humble eatery.



Taj: packed all the time — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

ANEES-UR-Rahman did not intend to make his Taj hotel near Russell Market look like Shah Jahan's masterpiece, nevertheless his biriyani is a masterpiece. Rahman picks tender mutton legs that go into his sell-out dish with as much care as Shah Jahan picked the hands to build the great wonder. Once Rahman hands over the legs, the Arcot jeeragasamba rice, and the other ingredients that go into the aromatic work of art to his main chef Mohammed Ghouse, the wizard gets to work on them like his predecessors did some 70 years ago, when Rahman's father first gifted the Taj to Bangalore. He then subjects the assembly of rice, meat, and spices to a delicate process of cooking over slow-burning firewood, and the resultant aroma draws hordes of admirers to the restaurant, whose 200 seats are almost always occupied.

When Abdul Rahman Chichaba first started the restaurant 70 years ago, it was a modest hut-like structure, seating around 40. His son Rahman, who has been managing the establishment since the '70s after his father passed away, says: "My father had two celebrated chefs, Mohammed Hanif and Salar, who dished out biriyani, kali mirch chops, katti chops, and mutton kurma. Clients used to wait for a seat those days. In 1955, a small structure was added and in 1972 I put up the balcony which can hold another 30.'' People streamed in at all hours, and it was difficult to turn them away saying the kitchen was closed. Rahman had to keep the place running from 7 in the morning to midnight.

A quarter plate of the famed biriyani includes one big piece of mutton and costs Rs. 38. The chicken biriyani costs the same, while kababs cost Rs. 50 for 10 pieces. The succulent sheekh kababs are Rs. 30 a plate of 14 pieces, chilli chicken Rs. 50, ghee rice Rs. 15, parathas at Rs. 4 come with gravy, dal, and a curry, and you can give the plain white rice an appetising colour with dal and gravy for Rs. 8. A couple can rest content on a wholesome non-veg meal for Rs. 150. Kalmi kababs, tandoori dishes, chicken tikka, mutton methi gravy, butter chicken, are all other reasons to visit the Taj.

While sticking to tradition in making his biriyani, Rahman successfully introduced Chinese cuisine 10 years ago with chicken manchurian, chilli chicken, and fried rice.

The Taj tradition includes a tea for Rs. 3 to wash down the biriyani. Some others prefer faloodas and special malbas. The Taj's sodas and ginger lime soda at Rs. 15 and iced tea are usually consumed before lunch or dinner. The takeaway counter is equally crowded, especially on Sundays, and the restaurant, on an average, leaves close to 800 hungry souls satisfied at the end of the day, who gobble up 80 kg. mutton and 50 kg. chicken everyday. About 70 per cent of its customers are Hindus, and so, on a Hindu festival, business drops sharply.

It's Taj's tradition and hygiene that have seen customers going back to it for over 70 years. For those sceptical about eating meat at restaurants but still want to indulge, Taj provides a happy answer with its carefully picked meat, and clean, modern, kitchen equipment.

The clients range from the neighbourhood regulars to addicts from Mumbai, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, public sector employees to politicians, among whom Roshan Baig and C.M. Ibrahim are old time visitors. "Lucky Ali and several Kannada film stars too are regulars," says Rahman. The restaurant also regularly caters to parties at the Police Officers' Mess and the Chief Minister's Iftar party at the Vidhana Soudha.

In the midst of all the success, Rahman has a heart for charity. He feeds upto 30 to 40 poor people with rice and gravy everyday.

During Ramzan, he gives away fruits, dates, plantains, samosas, and milk shake to 70 to 80 people, and during the sehri he serves a meal that includes parathas, rice, and mutton curry to 20 to 25 people free of cost.

For weddings and birthdays, Taj's party halls can accommodate 500 to 600 people. The eatery can be contacted on 5592006 or 5599811.

M. V. CHANDRASHEKAR

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