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👀 An ode to the Calcutta Biryani
#342 | ...a.k.a. the best food in the world
It's been a while since I've written one of these (shoutout to the ones who noticed my absence from their inbox!). Guess what brought me out of hibernation?
An "observation" by Karina. Before I tell you what she said, I want to declare my undying love and utmost respect for her to the world. She's the best.
But her observation was one of the worst statements ever to befall my ears. "Calcutta biryani is not biryani", she said.
As her words made their way from Goa to Kolkata through the laptop speakers, time began to slow down. My head spun, and my heart beat faster than a speeding bullet. I couldn't feel the ground beneath my feet anymore. The very fabric of reality seemed to be disintegrating around me.
Somehow, by the grace of God, or the supernatural machinations of deceased Calcutta Biryani connoisseurs, I regained control over my senses.
What followed was a thorough interrogation. My colleague and fellow Calcuttan Subhalaxmi and I needed to know how Karina, usually so prudent and impeccable in her judgements, could have made such an erroneous (I'm using this word here just to be polite) assessment of what is arguably the greatest dish known to humankind, the Calcutta Biryani.
Her answers indicated that she hadn't tasted it in the right places (one of those was not even in Calcutta), and we vowed to take her to all the holy sites whenever she visits next.
This conversation also revealed that the history of the Calcutta Biryani being a descendant of the Awadhi Biryani is not widely known, and brings me to my Thing for today.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, exiled from Lucknow, settled in Metiabruz on the outskirts of Calcutta in 1856. His arrival is synonymous with the arrival of Biryani in Calcutta, and to this day, you can find illustrations of the Nawab in Biryani joints in the city.
It is said that the Nawab's slowly dwindling finances compelled his bawarchis to innovate, which is why the Calcutta Biryani has those golden, meat-juice-soaked, buttery-smooth potatoes in it.
Food science communicator Krish Ashok, a.k.a. The Masala Lab, has a short video on Instagram about the pros of putting the potato in the biryani. The British were pushing farmers to cultivate potatoes in Bengal around that time, and the potatoes might have been an addition made by street food joints.
If all this Calcutta Biryani talk has you salivating, watch this video by Bong Eats, a YouTube channel known for its exquisitely shot recipes from the kitchens of Bengal. They even have a separate video focused just on making the Calcutta Biryani Powder.
And with that, the curtain falls on this edition of Just One Thing, and I can go back to my regular life in peace knowing I have done everything to bring Karina into the light.
Here's wishing all of you a very Biryani-filled Durga Pujo!