The battle of the biryani

Take a gander at one of the most popular items tickling the Lahore’s palette since the Mughal era.

Take a gander at one of the most popular items tickling the Lahore’s palette since the Mughal era. PHOTO: SANA GHAZALI

If the quest to find a decent meal in Lahore has left you hungry and forlorn, take a gander at one of the most popular items tickling the city’s palette since the Mughal era.

Considered by many to be the next best thing since sliced bread, biryani today means a lot of things to different people. But at the end of the day, it is a convenient option and serves to be a full meal for starving students, workers and midnight munchers.

The biryani eating world is split between two kinds of people—those who can look up while eating and those who must look down at their food. However, due to the presence of unwanted gunk in the dish, you find yourself subscribing to the former practice. This highlights the next point — biryani is a mixture of a range of ingredients and everyone prefers varying versions of it.

Some enjoy it on dried plums enveloped by rice while some like it with the rather odd boiled egg. The range of ingredients that are available to a cook — bits and bobs of herbs and spices — can overwhelm even the most casual and least finicky of diners.

Most would argue that the best biryani is invariably found in their own homes but that is exactly why we must look past the domestic bells and whistles and draw our attention to the most common form available to the masses — the chicken biryani. In developing a framework for appreciation of this dish, a few indicators of excellence can be narrowed down to taste, convenience and affordability. An important factor in evaluating biryani is the presence of food colour, but one can hardly blame eateries for not being able to afford saffron, so we will leave it out.

Biryani-Photos Sana Ghazali

Student Biryani

The good people at Student Biryani have been around since 1969 and have franchises all over Pakistan and the Middle East; their convenient and centralised ordering system allows food to be delivered from their outlet in Lahore’s Fortress Stadium to anywhere in the city. Although cheaper options are available on their menu, the deal which includes a large plate of biryani served with a shami kabab, salad, raita, kheer and a drink, turned out to be quite the smorgasbord. And it is rather well-packed too.

Priced a little over Rs300, which may be a little steep for budget-conscious consumers, the deal should suffice for two. Despite the blandness and muted aromatics, the biryani has a pleasant taste and is filling. Rated: 3/5

Biryani Express

Biryani Express has built a strong reputation for serving delicious biryani at affordable prices. With over 30 branches in Lahore, the chain delivers a range of attractive deals for its customers. For less than Rs200, it’s difficult to imagine how an eatery can conjure up a plate full of biryani, a piece of chicken, raita, salad and a drink. But these folks do it and they do it well. The dish is full of flavour with a balanced hint of lemon and yoghurt and a conspicuous zest of cloves and cardamoms, which leaves a trace on your tongue when you are done devouring the food.

Biryani Express remains popular because it is an affordable option for everyday diners looking for generous portions on a budget. Rated: 4/5

Dhaba Restaurant

The rustic Dhaba Restaurant on M M Alam Road is arguably one of the best places to eat Pakistani food in Lahore. It’s small and Spartan and while it lacks decent parking space for its customers, it makes up for it in its fantastic price. Although quite steep at over Rs400, a plate of their Madrasi biryani is enough for three people and probably the closest thing to home-cooked food. It has plenty of spices and thankfully avoids artificial colours present is other establishments.

However, if you are not into spicy food then this one is not for you. Rated: 3/5

There are several other contenders in the battle of the biryani, but one thing is clear — as long as prices are kept reasonable/low and quality is preferred over quantity, everyone comes out a winner. 

The writer is a food critic and enthusiast based in Lahore who is also a development planner and lawyer.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2013.

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Sufi | 10 years ago | Reply

Lahore has to go long way to have good Biryani. How is sliced bread relevant in pakistan?

RH | 10 years ago | Reply

@no name: That's strange, considering so much of North Indian and Pakistani food is exactly the same - same dishes, same names, everything. Obviously there may be local variations in taste, but that's about it. I've never been to India but have many Indian friends and have eaten in their homes and the food is excellent. To claim there is 'nothing to eat' in as huge and diverse country as India is, frankly, a pretty ridiculous thing to say.

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