Sometimes, it’s not about the presentation. Sometimes, it’s about flavor.
My good pal Khai’s as much of a food lover as I am, and if he were to ever arm himself with a decent camera, start a food blog and maintain it, it’d surely be one of my favorite reads. He might not bring you the hottest in haute cuisine, or talk about the latest indie cafe to hit the streets, but I know I can count on him for food for the soul. But you know how things go – life happened. Almost a split second after I came out of the closet, I noticed a change in dynamics – they flinch, some sooo far, I know I’ve lost them completely despite reassurance that they were “okay with you”; others hardly move, but a turn of the head, and they’ve run as far as they can. In the beginning, I’ll admit it was difficult – the hesitance before I hit the “send” grew longer day by day, but even the most painful of wounds heal, in time. I closed the book, and set sail with what little was left. But one fine day, you chance upon the scar. You smile to yourself as you reflect on a time the days seemed a lot simpler. The bad days then seem silly now. You look at your phone, tempted to share your nostalgia, but you’re awoken from the dream – the train’s here, a growl of the stomach, an incoming text – and you proceed with your day’s plans.
Alauddin Biryani was recommended by Khai a few years ago after his good friend, my course mate, Jiaxiong had a sudden craving for biryani. Together with another course mate, Su, who was to be the latter’s girlfriend, we headed down to Tekka Market one fine afternoon for lunch. Having eaten it so long ago, I couldn’t exactly remember whether I liked it or not, but when I had to meet my Editor and fellow colleagues at City Square mall at Farrer Park, there was only place I thought of – here.
The original biryani from South Asia is actually closer in style to Spanish paella, Korean bibimbap and Asian fried rice – both meat and rice are cooked in the same pot, in the South Asia, called a “dum”. Some variants cook either separately, but layer them inside a pot to allow the flavors to absorb and fuse, much like a Moroccan tajine. In that respect, the biryani commonly found in Singapore; where the spiced and colored rice is cooked separately, and served with either a crispy, curry stewed or masala spiced meat such as chicken and a side of achar, is actually unique to the country. There are however, a handful of spots within the island where the original dum biryani traditions are being upheld to as best as they can, and when you try this, it is important to know what to expect. You may find the flavors of dum biryani to be a little more “one-note” because the meat and the rice were cooked in the same pot, and the synergy of flavor balances the contrast between the flavor and meat until the line’s blurred completely. Drinks, while not sold together, are an important component so if you can’t find your fragrant warm chai infused with milk to form a milky sweet beverage, then opt for something in a similar style, in my case, I went for a teh tarik, a sweetened milk tea mixed by “pulling” the tea from one cup to another multiple times to create an enjoyable frothy and airy treat.
Perhaps my only complaint would be the fact that the chicken was not as tender as I’d have liked. The meat does come off easily, but at some points, it does come eerily close to Kenny Rogers’ roasted
sawdust chicken, which isn’t at all, a compliment to the store’s four decade history. While this isn’t the best iteration of dum biryani locally, in fact I remember Khai taking me to Seah Im Food Centre where I had a much better dum biryani but I’m not sure if they sell in limited quantities or they’ve moved already, it’s a good initiation into a cuisine which is sooo overlooked because we’ve irresponsibly categorized it into two words, “curry” and “tandoori”.