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Food fit for the nawabs

The biryani at Haji Noor Mohammed Biryaniwale is simply the best in town, says RAHUL VERMA



TEMPTING FARE: A bit spicy but Haji Saheb's biryani is just irresistible PHOTO: SANDEEP SAXENA

I may have told you this before, but it bears repetition. I am a bit of a biryani freak. Unkind friends - and I am amazed at their growing numbers - point out that I am also a freak when it comes to kababs, steaks, pasta and sweets. But it is a fact that I become all moony-eyed when I come across a plate of good biryani. I was introduced to this dish by an old family friend called Bundu Khan, who used to come and stay with us for weeks and occasionally months, and cooked the most delicious biryani. It was, to use that old cliché, love at first bite. But I got addicted to this dish when I was studying at the Brahman Anglo Vedic College in Meerut. The name would give you an inkling of the kind of food we got in our hostel. You get a bit sick of urad dal, desi ghee and kheer after you have had the same meal day after day. So, I went in search of the Muslim oven of that volatile city and for two years happily survived on biryanis and kababs. Then, when I came to Delhi, I discovered the many culinary delights of the city, mainly in Purani Dilli.

Touchy subject

Now, let me warn you that the biryani is a very touchy subject. If you praise Dilli ki biryani to somebody from Lucknow, you will get either a pitying look, or some choice abuses. Delhi's food, the Lucknow food lover will tell you, is Lashkari, that is food of the soldiers or the hoi polloi. I am always open to other people's opinions, but let me tell you that the best biryanis come from Kolkata and Hyderabad. Sorry, but there's going to be no further correspondence on this subject.

Delhi biryani tends to be oily, but there are some great eateries in the city where the biryani is as subtle as you want it to be.

Of all the places that serve biryani in Delhi, two are particular favourites of mine. One is Haji Noor Mohammed Biryaniwale and I shall tell you about his biryani this week. Bur, first, let me grab your hand and guide you to the place. Start walking from Turkman Gate into the old city. After 300 yards, you will find on your right a lane called Elaichi Wali Gali, or the cardamom street. The second shop on the left is Haji Saheb's eatery. It is a small shop with huge deghs right at the entrance. Now, let go off my hand and fend for yourself.

I was in Old Delhi this week and paid a visit to Haji Saheb's shop.

As usual, the dark and dingy eatery was full of serious eaters too busy for a polite conversation. So, even though I was dying to discuss the weather with my fellows, I meekly placed my order for 1.5 kilos of buff biryani (in Old Delhi, you get it by the kilo), for which I paid the princely sum of Rs.60. And then I got it packed and took it with me for some hungry friends.

It was just great. The biryani was spicy, the meat pieces were succulent and the rice was cooked to such perfection that no two grains hugged each other.

This, in my opinion, is the best biryani in the city. But have I told you about this great Lucknow biryani stall in Delhi? Well, another day perhaps.

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