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Biriyani Tales

We, as a family, are foodies. Gathering around a table full of good food or just talking about good food, is one of our favorite things to do. As for my girls and me, looking up food videos in Instagram or drooling over the ones in Buzzfeed can keep us busy for hours. When we are bored or feeling down, we look at food. Comfort food doesn’t even have to be eaten. What I am trying to say is that, we, as a family, bond plenty over food.

Ever since our trip to India last summer, we find ourselves reminiscing about the biriyani we had a couple of days before we came back. Even before we got caught in the ennui of the lockdown, we caught ourselves revisiting that lunch more often than usual.

Nikku Biriyani

That biriyani, made by my nephew Nikhil Damodhar, is the stuff of legends. Perfectly seasoned morsels of chicken bursting with flavor upon your tongue, playing hide and seek among the grains of fluffy, perfectly cooked rice. I am sure the rice, the spices, and the onion-ginger-garlic combo had a significant tryst with ghee during the process of being transformed into the scrumptious biriyani, but the sickening richness that can make you turn away from the food after a few mouthfuls, that is the bane of ghee rich foods, was missing here. You knew there was ghee, but it never overpowered the flavors or your taste buds. Ghee knew its place and kept to it, not making its presence known more than necessary.

Balance – that is the keyword. everything was faultlessly balanced. The rice to meat to spice to aromatics ratio was so flawless that even after a full meal (that was beyond full), you left the table happy, satisfied, feeling benevolent that all was well with the world. That is the way good food should make you feel – not overwhelmed or over indulged.

And that is exactly what that biriyani did. My firstborn did not want to use soap on her hands after the meal. “I want to keep smelling this heavenly aroma,” was her reason.

As sidekicks to that superstar, he had also fried up some sardines and made a delicious egg masala. They just existed in the periphery, paling in comparison next to the magnificence of the main star. I am such an eggoholic. Just the fact that there is an egg dish at any meal immensely cheers me up and raises the meal several notches in my book, but that day, perhaps for the first (and only) time in my life, I ignored the egg. Now that’s saying a lot.

We talked about that meal for days after we got back. Just talking about it made us happy and content. We did not eat biriyani for a long time following that meal. It felt sacrilegious, almost disrespectful to that paragon of culinary goodness we had met on our trip home. We could not bring ourselves to inflict something inferior on our taste buds after the gastronomic nirvana they had been through. Some evenings, we’d just be hanging out in the porch and one of us would start, “ahh….” and the rest of us would know what was coming and finish the sentence for them. “…that biriyani though… remember how it just melted in your mouth?”
“And I didn’t even feel sick after stuffing my face.”
“I wonder how he gets it just right!”

Much as we all loved it, I never even bothered to ask him for his recipe. Or ask him to make for me his special blend of spices. I knew it was futile. The biriyani he made was virtually the Holy Grail and I was nowhere near worthy to attain it.

The guy is an awesome cook. He makes a pork masala which made me forget I had a mental block about eating pork and had me polishing it off with a nice fried rice. That pork masala literally melts in your mouth. Forget complicated dishes, he made me a cup of tea and I was left wondering what I had been drinking all these years in the name of tea. I gushed so profusely about it that my sister-in-law, his mom, would not make me tea after that without a disclaimer attached – not to expect her son’s tea. He made me a fan of Suleimani. Who knew black tea – previously anathema to me – could be so good?

The secret to the goodness of everything he makes is not just the fact that he enjoys cooking. It is also his desire to make those he loves happy and he pours his heart and soul into his dishes. He is like a master craftsman in the kitchen. He takes so much pleasure in cooking, that it is a joy to watch him whipping up his delicacies – almost like an enchanter conjuring up some delightful magic.

But his pièce de résistance is beyond doubt, that biriyani. And what brought on these biriyani thoughts today? Well, that unforgettable meal was exactly one year ago as Timehop reminds me and I opened my eyes this morning to a picture of it on my phone. Like I needed any reminding.

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