Biryani – It’s the taste of celebration; whether it’s Eid, Diwali, Weddings, Birthdays or Sunday lunch at Grandmas, biriyani never gets old.
If it’s an occasion in this part of the world, you’ve just got to have those golden grains of stock cooked rice, savoury boiled eggs, tender pieces of spiced meat and the oh so very essential condiments- a bit of pickle and green coconut sambol to add that spicy sweetness.
Sri Lanka is, of course, a rice and curry nation, and much adulation is doled out to our crispy hoppers, lacy string hoppers, crumbly pittu and fragrant lamprias. However local biryani doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. If you think about it though, those plates of saffron tinged rice are a central part of life for millions of Sri Lankans. For the country’s Muslims and also for many of its Tamils this is the special occasion food of choice- just about everyone in the country appreciates a good Biryani.
Yet finding that special plate of biryani in Colombo isn’t all that easy. While there are various Muslim aunties who supply excellent sawans (large silver salvers laden with rice, eggs and meat) your average lunch-time biryani though is often a disappointment. More often than not you order a plate of biryani wanting a change from the usual and end up wishing you had gone for the dry chicken and fried rice.
Maybe it’s just me, but I find the standard street-side kade biryani such a far cry from the festive Biryani that I love. Again, today I was struck by a sudden craving for it, and without the time and resources to organize a partyt that would justify a sawan, I set out for Buhari Hotel- Colombo’s Biryani institution. What the DBU is to lamprais and Raheemas is for roasted chicken the Buhari hotel is for Biryani. For generations this has been the go-to place for a plate of golden grains.
Nowadays of course its Maradana location isn’t exactly central Colombo, but its easy enough to reach and the premise retains a bit of faded old world charm. Not too much seems to have changed in here over the years, but its clean and pleasant enough to eat in. It’s very likely the calmest and most salubrious spot in the vicinity of the Maradana junction.
The service is attentive and your biryani will appear in just a few minutes. They have huge constantly bubbling cauldrons of stock and rice in their cavernous kitchen so you’ll be plunging you fingers into steaming piles of yellow rice in no time.
Shovelling the rice, sambol, spiced chicken and gravy into your mouth is pretty satisfying but it’s still a long way off from that special sawan you really want. Where’s that rich meaty taste? Where’s the scent of cardamom and saffron, the sweet tang of the pickle, the cooling bit of raita and the dash of shrimp paste that differentiates a real biryani from just yellow rice?
Well they are definitely not at Buhari hotel. Instead you get a reliable plate of flavoured yellow rice, a hunk of masala chicken, passable curry gravy, a nice green-chilli coconut sambol and a flavoursome boiled egg. For Rs. 400 it’s a nice lunch and a change from the old soya meat curry, but I’ve got to say for the same price a lamprais from Dutch Grocer or DBU just seems a lot better.
A biryani even at lunch time should be better than this.
I just need to find a biryaniari? Biryanserai? Biryaneraunt that agress with me.