Biryani and Kababs (Delhi, March 2022)

I ate out a fair bit in Delhi in March but I ate at home more. One of those meals eaten at home, however, also featured restaurant food. Or to be more precise it featured food from a number of different restaurants. You see, my sister’s birthday fell during my trip and it was the first time in more than 30 years that I was in the same city as her (and my parents) on the day. And as one of her absolute favourite foods is biryani, we decided to do an extended family gathering at my parents’ place centered on biryani. My nephews were tasked with ordering the biryani. Their first thought was the popular chain, Biryani By Kilo, but they readily admitted that they had not tried a whole lot of alternatives in Gurgaon. Accordingly, I put the question to Twitter and when a large number of other places received votes it seemed only right to order from as many of them as possible. And that is how we ended up with seven different biryanis from five different restaurants. And to be safe I also ordered a bunch of kababs from the closest location of the venerable Al Kauser. Here’s how it went.

First, the kababs, as that is what we started with. We got Al Kauser’s signature kakori kababs along with their galouti kababs, chicken malai tikka and chicken barra kababs. I have to admit that neither kakori kababs nor galouti kababs—both exceedingly soft when made well—are among my favourite kababs. I prefer kababs that resist the tooth a little. But I am in the minority there even in my family and so ordered a bunch of them anyway. My personal preferences aside, they were very good examples of their categories. Likewise the malai tikka and the chicken barrra, the latter of which was my favourite of the quartet. This was not the best order of kababs, by the way, as three of the four were at the melt-in-the-mouth end of the kabab continuum.

Moving on to biryani, I also ordered Al Kauser’s Lucknow-style mutton biryani. As is the style at most biryani places in Delhi, this came in a sealed clay handi (pot). The biryanis from Biryani By Kilo—Calcutta-style chicken biryani, Hyderabadi-style chicken biryani and veg biryani—also came in handis (in their case, the delivery bags included little clay lamps to keep the handis warm); as did the Awadhi-style gosht biryani from Kitchen of Awadh. (As to whether there is a genre distinction of note between Awadhi and Lucknawi biryani, I cannot say; if you can, please write in below.) The other two biryanis were from South Indian specialists and possibly for this reason eschewed the sealed handi aesthetic. These included a Hyderabadi-style mutton biryani from Paradise and a Kerala or more specifically Thalassery-style mutton biryani from Thalassery Restaurant. Most came with accompanying raitas and salans, though we quickly lost track of which were which.

There were also complementary dishes on the table that had been made at home—alur dom etc.—as well as dahi bhallas from Chaat Chowk. For dessert we had phirni from Biryani By Kilo, gulab jamuns from some local purveyor, cake from some mod bakery or the other, and home made gurer-payesh (kheer/rice pudding with jaggery). All in all you could say it was a good meal.

What did we make of the biryanis? Well, I would say that all were head and shoulders above what’s available in the US (at least what little I’ve sampled of it). But you would probably expect that. How did we rank them among themselves? These were the consensus rankings and they were identical to my own:

  1. Nizami Mutton Biryani from Paradise. Perfectly cooked rice and both assertive and nuanced at the same time.
  2. Thalassery Special Mutton Biryani from Thalassery Restaurant. Made with very short-grained rice and spicy mutton, this was rather good indeed.
  3. Gosht Biryani from Kitchen of Awadh. This was also very good but the rice was just a bit dried out.
  4. Lucknawi Mutton Biryani from Al Kauser. This was very similar to the previous, just with more kewra and more green chilli heat.
  5. Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani from Biryani By Kilo. Not bad but not a patch on the Hyderabadi mutton biryani from Paradise.
  6. Hyderabadi Veg Biryani from Biryani By Kilo. This was for the benefit of the one strict vegetarian in attendance, but some of the hardcore carnivores also enjoyed it.
  7. Kolkata Chicken Biryani from Biryani By Kilo. This, alas, was a bit of a disappointment for a houseful of Bengalis. It did spark a conversation though about whether Calcutta-style biryani is actually as good as people from Calcutta make it out to be or if that belief is just another cornerstone of Bengali nationalism.

Yes, our two favourite biryanis were the ones that did not come in fancy sealed handis. Make of that what you will. For a look at the excess, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for a few more thoughts about it all and to see what’s coming next on the restaurant review front.

There were a few other places in Gurgaon and environs that were recommended that we did not order from this time—I look forward to trying them on future trips. For now, I think there is a very good chance we will go back to/order food from Thalassery Restaurant on our next visit (projected for January). Biryani is only a small part of what they serve and the rest of the menu looks very good as well. I also liked Al Kauser’s kababs enough to order a few more to try later in the trip—those are at the end of the slideshow. Biryani By Kilo was to my mind clearly below all the others. Though as a friend had predicted I would find to be the case, their phirni turned out to be very good.

If you know Gurgaon well, please recommend other places to try as well. Ditto if you have any Old Delhi purveyors you’d recommend. I am plotting another large group meal for the next trip that will be centered on korma from Hakim Bawarchi in Chandni Chowk and it would be great to pick up some biryani while in the general vicinity as well.

Alright, the next Delhi report will be next weekend and will be of one of two fancy-schmancy places. Before that I’ll have a review on Tuesday of a rather good dinner the missus and I ate at Alma in Minneapolis this past Friday.


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