chicken Byriani - Indian meal

As a lover of Kalyani beef biryani, Hyderabad’s less famous but much loved other biryani, I wonder what all the fuss about consuming the meat is about. I get it that the cow is like a maata for some Hindus and most will probably not eat beef. But that still leaves a substantial minority that do eat beef. And as I can testify from numerous outings to Kalyani biryani joints in Hyderabad, I’ve been allowed to consume this meat unmolested.

As I mentioned, Kalyani biryani is Hyderabad’s “other” biryani. Unlike the more famous dum ki biryani, in which the meat is chicken or mutton, Kalyani uses beef or buff, as the case may be. That’s not the only difference. “Hyderabadi biryani” is available in restaurants while “Kalyani biryani” is served at hole-in-the wall joints, tucked away in a side street or upstairs on the first floor corner of the building. While the chicken and mutton variants use the finest spices, rice and meat the beef version is unpretentious, but tasty. The key difference is that Kalyani is cheaper.

“I’ve lived in Hyderabad for a decade and I’ve never experienced any aggression or heated conversations about beef, or anyone questioning me about eating Kalyani biryani.”

I discovered Kalyani biryani quite by accident. When I was in college a friend took a bunch of us to eat beef biryani to celebrate his birthday. A plate cost Rs 18. It was all he could afford. The place looked shady and the waiters shabby. I didn’t mind and if I remember correctly, we all ordered a second plate each, much to my friends’ dismay!

I kept revisiting the place. The thing that amazed me was that this particular eatery was located beside one of Hyderabad’s busiest intersections, and bang behind the local police station. Even the cops dropped in sometimes for a cheap meal of rice and protein. I continued visiting the place when I started working for a newspaper in Hyderabad. The office was walking distance and this place was the only one open after I got off the night shift at 11.00pm.

I’ve visited other places in Hyderabad that serve Kalyani. All of them are located in crowded localities and market places, with “Kalyani Biryani” signs written in English, Telugu and Urdu. All of them have fabulous names too: Al-shafa, Amfah, Alhamdullilah, Bismillah, Naseeb!

Getting to a Kalyani joint can be quite an adventure. Jump into a rickshaw and give the driver vague directions, in Hyderabadi lingo, “Ek Minar Masjid kane uss Kalyani wale ke paas jaana,” or “Charminar kane wuh choti galli me Kalyani milta kehte, jaate kya?” They unerringly take you to the right spot.

There was one that opened close to my home called Mazdoor Kalyani Biryani: no prizes for guessing who the clientele were! The owners had converted a car repair garage into a biryani joint. I went a couple of times, but quit after I thought I caught a faint smell of industrial grease and paint in the food.

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The cost of a plate of Kalyani biryani has gone up from Rs 18 when I started eating in the early 2000s to around Rs 80 now. That’s still cheaper than the cost of a chicken or mutton biryani.

I’ve lived in Hyderabad for a decade and in that time I’ve never experienced any aggression or heated conversations about beef, or anyone questioning me about eating Kalyani biryani. Even when I told my extended family, quite a few of whom are BJP supporters, no one questioned my choice.

Once, a bunch of us from university felt the “urge” and took off to the nearest joint, 12km away. A batchmate, who was beginning to show conservative tendencies and hung out with the right wing students’ union tagged along. When we warned him where we were going he shrugged and said that he would get them to remove the beef and eat only the rice. I lauded him for his tolerance, even when I disagreed with him on virtually everything else.

The Kalyani Nawabs of Bidar came to Hyderabad sometime in the 18th century and set up their haveli which is today known at the ‘Kalyani Nawab ki Devdi’. The Kalyani Nawabs were from the present day Basavakalyan which was located on the fringes of the erstwhile Hyderabad State.

The Nawabs were known for their exceptional hospitality, especially towards those who visited from Hyderabad. The devdi was known to serve two meals to everyone visiting from Bidar and around and the ‘Kalyani Biryani’ was the most popular dish served by them. Today, the devdi of the Kalyani Nawabs stands in ruins, which goes to show the sad state of affairs. It’s disheartening to see that we’re unable to preserve our historical heritage through monuments. But on the brighter side, we’ve managed to capture the wonderful past and glory in our food, that is in the Kalyani biryani.

In 1948, the Indian government took over Hyderabad State in what was named ‘Operation Polo’. These were tough times for the nobles of the Hyderabad state, especially the Kalyani Nawabs. It is believed that over a period of time, the cooks of the devdi spread out and took up jobs elsewhere in the city. Some joined existing food joints while others started their own roadside stalls or bhandi.

A certain gentleman by the name Dawood started his own bhandi, making and selling biryani according to the traditional recipe as he knew it. The Kalyani Biryani is made with small cubes of beef, regular spices, onions and lots of tomatoes. It’s an exceptionally taste biryani which is why gradually, it grew in popularity.

Sometime in the 50’s, Dawood set up a permanent stall behind the dargah in Murgi Chowk, close to Charminar. There might have been other cooks who practiced and propagated the Kalyani biryani school of thought but no one became as popular and as successful as Dawood. And he aptly named his shop ‘Kalyani Biryani’, because that’s what he did best.

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Many people believe that the Kalyani biryani is the beef version of the Hyderabadi biryani. It’s not. The Kalyani biryani’s very unlike the regular Hyderabadi biryani. It has a distinct tomato, jeera, dhania flavour. It’s also not as rich as it’s Hyderabadi cousin. It also does not have the Hyderbadi stamp of saffron and other expensive spices, but it’s still quite tasty.

I feel it’s unfair to label the Kalyani biryani as a poor man’s Hyderabadi biryani. I’d say it isn’t poor, but it’s definitely unpretentious. Hyderabad is of course, far more affluent than what it was in the 50’s and the relevance of the much cheaper Kalyani biryani has probably dropped. But it’s still pretty popular in the outskirts of Hyderabad and in the less affluent Muslim areas of Hyderabad. And of course, still pretty dominant in Bidar and its surrounding areas.

Dawood’s shop in Murgi Chowk is a pale shadow of what it used to be. He passed away some years ago and his sons now run it. The place isn’t well maintained but everything in this biryani shop looks exactly how it did 30 to 40 years ago.

The Kalyani biryani still tastes pretty decent but the locals of Murgi Chowk tell me that it used to be much better. And if you’re a food and history buff, then it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s an important part of Hyderabad’s culinary past and an effort has to be made to preserve and support these gems.

Rickshaw pullers, newspaper wallahs, job aspirants, and struggling artists dig into the famous Kalyani, or beef, biryani in Hyderabad, which is not meat but food, a cheap source of protein.

‘Bade ka’, ‘broad guage’, ‘buff’ and ‘kalyani’ are some of the euphemisms for dishes crafted out of beef. In Hyderabad, you can walk into many small wayside restaurants where the name Kalyani Biryani dominates over the name of the restaurant.

Sometimes, the signboard is just Kalyani Biryani. It is a sign for many people to step in and have a bellyful of grub for one-third the price. And to say it’s delicious would be an understatement. In other cities where I have travelled and lived, the euphemism is muttered but never uttered. Only in Kerala, the beef fry is beef fry.

Can the word beef be used for buffalo meat? Nah! Beef, the dictionary tells us, is the French-loaned word of ‘boeuf’. That too was an accident, as the nobility in England who could afford to eat meat were Norman-French while the farmers who raised the animals were Anglo-Saxons. Mutton, which we use as a label for most meats, is drawn from ‘mouton’ in French — meaning sheep.

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On the sea spray-swept walkway to Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai or the cacophonous crowded lanes near Jama Masjid in Delhi, the roasting kebabs are so easy on the pocket that nobody asks for the origin of the meat. It is all too obvious at a time when lamb or goat meat costs Rs. 500 for a kilogramme.

It is only in Hyderabad that the name Kalyani Biryani has become a byword for beef biryani. Years ago, I discovered the name by accident while driving on the broad road near Charminar. In an inner lane, there was an open graveyard with elaborate tile work on the walls with goats grazing on the side. I was told this is the maqbara (grave) of Kalyani Nawab and the area was called Kalyani Nawab ki Deori.

Was there a link between the name and biryani? A little genealogical digging led to a tale that was gut-wrenching and at the same time heart-warming.

An old retainer told me about how Kalyani Nawabs, who were the fort keepers of Basavakalyan (now in Karnataka but was part of Nizam’s territory), maintained their sprawling deori (mansion) in Hyderabad. “This was home for anyone who had a petition in the Nizam’s court and had to make a trip to the city. Everyone was served sumptuous food in the evening,” he told me. But things changed dramatically in the 1940s when the Independence movement and then Operation Polo unravelled the fortune of the Nawabs. The visitor flow was constant but the flow of money wasn’t, as the lands were usurped and taken away by the government. Then someone in the kitchen tweaked the main dish. Instead of the regular meat for the biryani, they added the much cheaper beef.

“Sometime in the late 1940s, when the fortunes of the Kalyani Nawabs dwindled further, one of the chefs named Dawood moved out and started selling the cheaper biryani from behind the Murgi Chowk Masjid just beyond the Charminar. While there were other biryani sellers, true to his salt, Dawood named his outlet Kalyani Biryani. And a legend was born,” says Mohit Balachandran, a food blogger.

Today, Hyderabad has countless Kalyani Biryani outlets. Some of them don’t close for the night. Bonhomie and camraderie echo inside the closed doors as rickshaw pullers, autorickshaw drivers, newspaper wallahs, job aspirants, and struggling artists step in for a tuck in.

As the diners walk out of Prince Hotel in Mehdipatnam in darkness searching for their vehicles at 3 a.m. or near Rumaan Hotel in Tolichowki at 1 a.m., I realise the truth about beef. Beef is not meat, it is food. A cheap source of protein in these days of soaring prices, which helps people keep their body and soul together.

To think anyone can have animosity towards this item of food for whatever reason is beyond belief and humanity. #KhabarLive


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