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How biryani got dum


Some startups have cracked the code of cooking and delivering the traditional favourite as conveniently as pizza

Mohammad Bhol grew up watching and helping his father and grandfather oversee their khandani cooks while they cooked traditional Bohri biryani and thaals. Bhol’s family has been catering in Mumbai’s Nagarpada neighbourhood since the 1960s, but he was intrigued by the idea of turning a complex dish like biryani into fast food.

Bhol, who co-founded Charcoal Biryani with three others in 2015, says the startup wants to build “the Domino’s of biryani”, in terms of reach and convenience. The 32-year-old is just one of several entrepreneurs who are turning biryani into a business, backed, of course, by angel funding.

Thanks to them, the dish is no longer confined to hole-in-the-wall eateries or expensive fine dining restaurants. Aromatic handis now arrive at doorsteps via smartphones.

Some startups such as the multi-city Behrouz Biryani, Delhi’s Biryani by Kilo and Mumbai-based Charcoal Biryani work on a delivery-only model without a dine-in option, others like Delhi’s Biryani Blues, Bengaluru’s Mani’s Dum Biryani and Ammi’s Biryani, and Hyderabad-based Paradise Food Court have both. While Charcoal Biryani gets an average of 1,000 orders per day, Behrouz gets close to 4,000 from its 135 outlets, backed by 140 cloud kitchens.

A significant reason for biryani’s all-round popularity is that it’s perceived as a more complete and wholesome dish than your average pizza or burger. “Like the noodle bowl, it is a perfect one-bowl meal with proteins, carbs and micro-nutrients, but with our flavours,” says celebrity chef Ranveer Brar. “Moreover, since dum food is slow-cooked over a long period of time, it can sustain delivery time and not go bad. Finally, you can have it for both lunch and dinner.”

It also has a pan-Indian appeal. “All of India revels in this dish though every region does its own version depending on local ingredients. Its beauty lies in its heady aroma, its refinement and the process of layering rice, vegetables and meat,” says Pratibha Karan who has authored the cookbook Biryani.

Yet, the skill required to cook a truly delicious biryani poses its own set of challenges. “Indian food is complex, unlike American food which is easy to scale up,” says Raymond Andrews of Delhi-based Biryani Blues. “Biryani isn’t like a frozen burger that you can just assemble. It also has to be cooked fresh because it loses its texture and won’t taste as good after a few hours.” In 2013, Andrews and his wife Aparna, both from Hyderabad, were inspired to start their own biryani chain after being disappointed by the lack of good biryani options in Gurgaon. “Our target customers are working couples, offices, and the party segment,” says Andrews. “If you want to have a quick bite, or have unexpected guests or a working lunch, the easiest and neatest thing to serve is biryani in a box.”

In a 2016 analysis by food delivery platform Swiggy, chicken biryani emerged as one of the top main course dishes ordered in six metros across India. In keeping with demand, Zomato now has a separate category for ‘brilliant biryanis’ in all major metros. “You desire it and perceive it as a speciality but you don’t really cook it at home because it requires skill,” points out celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor.

Many delivery chains have adapted biryani to the QSR delivery format by using technology to standardise the combination of spices, ingredients, quantity and temperature to ensure consistency. “Traditionally, there is an ustaad who throws in the spices,” says Bhol of Charcoal Biryani. “We have deskilled the art of making biryani by automating cooking processes such as weighing the ingredients to standardise the biryani, instead of relying on a cook’s expertise. In the future, we will automate more processes.”

In contrast, Delhi-based Biryani By Kilo aims to replicate homestyle cooking, with each order of biryani cooked freshly in an earthen claypot, which is delivered with a small angeethi or stove for reheating. “Whenever I ate biryani at restaurants, the flavour, freshness and fragrance was missing,” says co-founder Kaushik Roy, who quit his job as a venture capitalist to launch the biryani startup in Gurgaon. “It was more like a pulao, nobody made layered biryani the way we did at home, with rice on top and spices at the bottom.” Yet even here the cooking is precise: the weight of each ingredient and ratio of freshy ground spices is fixed, while the duration and temperature for cooking each handi are monitored with a timer.

While many biryani deliveries stick to popular traditional styles such as Lucknawi, Kolkata and Hyderabadi, others are experimenting with newer flavours, such as butter chicken biryani and vegetarian versions with falafel, soya or paneer. For example, Charcoal Biryani has tweaked traditional recipes by moderating the use of oil and spices, and introduced innovations like a Bohri-inspired sweet and smoky Jangbari biryani made with coriander seeds, dates and cashewnuts.

But can these chains lure foodies away from the local biryani vendor? Though they may be more expensive, these chains believe they deliver on hygiene, quality, convenience and variety. “The market is large enough for multiple brands to thrive,” says a confident Gautam Gupta, CEO of Hyderabad’s legendary Paradise Food Court, which has expanded to five cities.

Business of biryani

Raymond and Aparna Andrews started Biryani Blues in 2013. Based in Delhi NCR, its USP is Hyderabadi-style biryani though some gourmands swear by the Chicken 65 biryani. Got an undisclosed amount of funding from Carpediem Capital in 2015

Founded by Kaushik Roy and Vishal Jindal, Biryani by Kilo claims each order is cooked fresh in an earthen claypot. It raised funding of Rs 2.5 crore this year

Four partners, Anurag Mehrotra, Gautam Singh, Krishnakant Thakur and Mohammad Bhol, came together to set up Mumbai-based Charcoal Biryani. Their specialty is the slow-cooked Bohri biryani. Received funding of $1m

Source: Times of India

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