Those who love biriyani will identify with this. Biriyani, as we know, is not just a dish, it is a cult, a religion, a way of life. So when a friend of mine told me to join him and his friends for biriyani at Zam Zam, a restaurant in the Entally area of Kolkata known for its beef Mughlai dishes, on a Friday afternoon, I was game. Work could wait.
As we reached the restaurant, we saw that it was full. It was s simple place with a counter on the left as you enter and two rows of tables and chairs. People were pouring over plates of biriyani and coming in and going out and we knew we would not have to wait too long.
Soon, a table for four was free and we seated ourselves. The order for biriyani was simple; we ordered 4 plates of beef biriyani, that is, needless to say, their signature dish. There is chicken and mutton biriyani too, but for that one necessarily will not go all the way to Zam Zam.
When it came to the side dishes, we ordered beef bhuna, beef Kashmira and beef malai. Plus glasses of ghol ( yoghurt drink) to go with it. And a plate of spicy salad.
The biriyani, which is kept ready was served rather quickly by a smiling waiter , who also gave us slips of paper to put under the plates so that they sat snugly on the table, ‘brake laganeke liye’ as he put it. One thing about the place struck me, it is not a fancy place but the glasses and the plates are clean and the staff is very friendly.
Coming to the biriyani, words will never be able to do justice to it. The beef was tender and had a melt-in-your-mouth quality; there was a big potato chunk and sufficient rice to fill up a hungry appetite. And with any good biriyani, it appealed to the olfactory sense even before it reached our mouths, so delightfully aromatic was the long grained rice. Biriyani is considered to be a heavy dish, but this one is light and won’t leave your hands oily. Surely among the best in its class, if am allowed to make it sound like a car review.
The ghol was spicy and is meant as an appetiser to perk up your hunger and get the digestive juices flowing. If you do not want it that spicy you can choose not to stir the masala that lies at the bottom.
Now to the side dishes. Each dish had a taste and characteristic of its own. The beef bhuna, was seriously the pick of the lot. Bhuna essentially is a medium hot curry that originates in Bengal and is made by frying meat at high temperatures in spices, thus cooking the meat in its own juices and giving it a rich texture and a deep flavour.
The beef malai , made of milk cream and cashew nut gravy and spices was sweet, but it is a matter of taste and my friends did not like it too much. I did not mind that I had the entire dish to myself, I loved the juxtaposition of the sweet gravy with the biriyani.
The beef Kashmira, which I suspect derives its inspiration from Kashmiri cusine , was rich in flavour with use of hot spices , onions, garlic, chilli powder and turmeric.
We then ordered phirni, and this one, made of date palm jaggery had a certain caramalised flavour. A class apart, again.
But the biggest surprise was still in store. The bill, for four and for everything we ate was Rs 585, which works out to be less than Rs 150 per person! As we were leaving full and happy, we were told that Zam Zam had just won the best Mughlai restaurant prize at the Times Food Awards 2017 , which should come as no surprise and the owner was distributing sweets to all in celebration.
As we walked through the old lanes towards the main road from where we could book a cab, we unanimously agreed on one thing. Next time it was a Friday and we craved Biriyani, we would surely be back here!