'Chinese biryani?' I ask, once again. Arulselvan, Executive chef of Clarion Hotel has urged me to taste it at the Biryani Food Fest. Then there are the conventional and better known biriyanis too. From the Hydrabadi biryani to the spicy Tamil Nadu chicken biryani, the festival offers around 13 varieties of biryani to the diners. Chinese Biryani is just one of them. This speciality is served at a live counter.
A chef sautés the rice, spring onions and mint leaves and serves it to you hot and steaming. You can choose between different sauces such as tomato, chilly or soya as accompaniment. He will also top the biryani with cheese cubes. Arulselvan confesses to being a fan of the fusion.
The biryanis are served in stalls, designed like traditional huts, made of palm leaves. Arulselvan’s favourite past time is to blend oriental and Indian cuisine, he says. 'I have worked for cruise lines such as P & O and Holland Cruise Line for 12 years. When I missed home food, I used to experiment and combine continental recipes along with South Indian ones. The idea of Chinese biryani struck me during one of those experiments.'
The Hyderabadi biryani, has been served in earthen pots. It is capped by a plantain leaf. There are no meat pieces. Instead, shredded keema has been tucked neatly between three layers of basmati rice. The biryani instantly wins you with its aroma and melt-in-the-mouth keema.
The smell of fried fish pulls me to the stall where the Thalaserry biryani is being served. The biryani is stored in a mud pot. The fish is fried separately and served with the rice. The basa fish is tender and boneless. The spicy taste of the fish balances out the bland taste of the rice.
One end of the restaurant resembles a local thattukadai. Lovers of South Indian Local Chicken Hundi Biryani gather here. The biryani is stored in a huge round steel vessel covered with a lid. The chef opens the lid and the aroma of the special jeera rice fills the air. The chicken pieces are so soft that the meat falls off the bones. It is served with an onion and tomato raita.
For those who do not eat meat there is the kai kari brinji (biryani with roasted bread crumbs) and Lucknowi paneer kofta biryani, rich in vegetables.
The health conscious can also indulge with the godhumai (wheat) biryani.
Mirchi ka salan, bhaingan bharta, egg and chicken gravy... are some of the accompaniments to the biriyani feast. I tuck into the tangdi kebab from a live kebab counter. It blends like a dream with the mint chutney.
A mix of Indian and western sweets such as angoor jamun, black forest pastry, Indonesian rice cake, tarts and pancakes are laid out for a sweet conclusion.
'The customer should not be bored of the menu', says Arulselvan.
'So, I alternate between different dishes. For instance, if today it is gothumai biryani, tomorrow it will be kappa (tapioca) or pudhina sabzi kofta biryani. There is variation in the non-veg platter too. Each day there will be different meat.'
My stomach has taken note of the word, kappa. A second trip might just be worth it.
(The festival is on till March 17, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The buffet is priced at Rs. 777 for adults and Rs. 399 for children)