AMBUR: A connoisseur of food might be confused over the various biryani brands and varieties available in any town in Tamil Nadu you enter. But, think of Ambur town in Tirupattur district and two things immediately come to mind; the expanding leather industry and Ambur biryani. While the former might clog your nostrils due to the odour, the latter will definitely get your taste buds working overtime once the smell of this exotic dish wafts into your nostrils.
In fact, despite the presence of biryani brands Chettinad biryani, Malabar biryani, Kachi biryani, Mandi biryani, Moghlai biryani, Memon biryani and Hyderabadi biryani in the market, Ambur biryani today is a brand of its own with faithful patrons who swear to its taste.
A briyani brand in Arcot town in present day Ranipet district was known to run out of biryani by 11.30 am due to patrons carrying packets to Chennai 100 odd km away. While each town with a Muslim population boasts of its own biryani variety, the mainstay in all towns is either chicken or mutton biryani.
New entrants like beef briyani, prawn biryani, fish biryani and chicken 65 biryani do not carry the same clout as mutton and chicken biryani, said Ambur Star biryani owner Munir Ahamed (52). Fish biryani sales are around 2 per cent compared to our regular varieties, he said.
Asked why his franchise does not serve beef biryani he candidly admits that inclusion of beef biryani will keep away most patrons as only a certain community relishes the beef variety. About chicken 65 biryani, egg biryani and fish biryani he says they are not cooked along with rice.
“Some years ago biryani cooks were in high demand to cook at weddings, but at present everybody prefers to order it from hotels which is where the hotel’s reputation for biryani matters,” says Patel Mohammad Aslam of Vellore who used such cooks for all functions.
Hotel Vellore kitchen owner Punniakoti said, “Once a hotel makes a reputation with exotic food like biryani, then great effort is taken to ensure that the reputation is maintained as otherwise we can lose our clientele.” His hotel is known for biryani and as the demand is heavy on Sundays, “cooking is over by 10 am as many opt for takeaways to enjoy the meal at home,” Punniakoti added.
Asked about the biryani provided by “Namma Veedu” hotels in Vellore, owner and TN Hotels Association president M Venkedasubbu said, “On weekdays we sell about 175 biryanis which more than doubles to 500 on Sundays.”
Asked for the reason for the high demand he said, “it is because we get tender meat and chicken even if it is slightly costlier which results in customers demand. The biryani used up daily and hence there is no chance of it ever being frozen.” “It is the bigger hotels which store non-veg food for days. We run out of food at the end of day and hence this predicament does not affect us,” Munir said.
Creation of the Ambur brand
Sources revealed that biryani as an exotic dish entered India from Iran through Afghanistan during the Mughal period. With erstwhile North Arcot district (now split into Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, Ranipet and Tirupattur districts) having a huge Muslim population it was only natural that biryani would soon become the mainstay in all important functions. Ambur biryani’s fame did not come overnight. In fact, Ambur biryani dates back to the 1890 when Kurshid Beg, great grandfather of Munir Ahamed started a small biryani eatery in Ambur town. “His work and ethics were passed on to his son Sajjad Beg from whom my father learnt the skill. In 1993, I started the Star biryani brand and from then there was no looking back as the chain continues to grow even today,” said Munir Ahamed.
Things that make it special
Initially we procured the Kichadi Samba rice used in biryani from Kalavi in present day Ranipet district. But, when cultivation practices lead to a change in the water used we found it affected the way biryani cooked and so we now procure Kichadi Samba rice from West Bengal. “A load of 28 tonnes of this rice will last for three months and then we repeat the process,” Munir Ahamed said.
Even the firewood used in the stove matters. “While other woods will not burn fully, we discovered that wood from the Tamarind tree was fully consumed when used for cooking. “Also, the heat from the wood remains constant when we used tamarind wood specially, when the dum is involved,” Munir said. He added that now they only use Tamarind wood. Cooking on gas does not provide the same flavour as when cooked with firewood, he added. For mutton biriyani, goats are procured wholesale from Salem district where grass is good due to the nature of water there. The hotel gets its chicken from an Erode based chicken supplier. “We run one shop of this brand in Ambur and hence source our chicken needs from this shop,” Munir added. The quantity of biryani sold is not based on the meat involved but on the rice used. “Normally we use around 400 kilos rice daily” he said.