I’ve got a new favorite place for biryani, now.
Yakader…Yakader… I came across the term while reading. When the eye-catching word came up a second time over the week, I decided it warranted a more elaborate discrimination. Yakader, as it turns out, is one of the many star attractions at Singapore’s Tekka Market and Food Centre. This generic but imposing landmark, anchored by its sky reaching residences heralding the entrance into the Indian heritage focused district of – you guessed it – Little India, is quite the ode to the rejuvenation of a comestible nature. It’s revered for its dum biryani, a Lucknow signature.
I know what you’re thinking: what’s the difference between dum biryani and nasi biryani? Technically, biryani is a preparation where white rice and meat and/or vegetables are layered, and cooked together in a sealed container (called the dum) over a slow flame. It’s a nutrient-rich dish that you can eat it on its own – perfect for the food scarce Indian subcontinent. However, as the Indians migrated to, and rubbed shoulders with Southeast Asian cuisine, the burden on the biryani to provide all the nutritional needs in one single dish was lessened. The abundance of fresh produce and staples meant that one could have a myriad of dishes. To accommodate and balance the flavor of the mixture of the different dishes, the richness of the biryani was reduced. After all, a rich flavored biryani of saffron, tumeric and other spices doesn’t go well with a hot sambal. So, the biryani takes on a role that’s not dissimilar to pulao (or pilaf): light and less aromatic. So, your biryani might not be as “Indian” as you think it is.
Hence, the pursuit of dum biryani becomes that much more meaningful – it’s a search for the semblance of the original, before it was reshaped and adapted. Too often, I find Indian cuisine in Singapore tainted by the Malay influence, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s inhibiting, I feel, the discovery of real Indian food. Coupled with the generalization that Indian cuisine is all just “curries”, the war’s lost even before the start of the very first battle.
Yet, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve visited Allauddin previously, and since my only experience with dum biryani was that, they were my benchmark. And to be honest, with the benefit of hindsight, I wasn’t immediately impressed, and I was really just less than enthusiastic to give Yakader a try. It only occurred to me to have it, not because the reviews seemed particularly enticing, but rather because I had a job interview after lunchtime, and the venue was a convenient single subway station away. I know, curry and job interviews – not the best of combinations, but I made sure my mouth was refreshed and rid of curry aroma before the big event.
After a bit of a search, there it was (behind Allauddin’s row). I honestly can’t say it looked appetizing – aesthetic presentation has never been Indian cuisine’s strongest feature. But it looked right, and from where I was standing, a big vat of biryani, intricately layered with rice and meats, with an icing of flawless hard-boiled eggs on the top. Despite being third in line, it was quite a wait as scoop after scoop went into takeaway packets, bagged, and hauled away. It’s always a good sign, isn’t it, to see people taking out in droves (the exception to that rule, I must say, is, Lao Ban…tried it, disliked it).
I got the mutton, since that’s the one most people rave about. I’m in two minds about mutton, really. I adore the flavor of the meat, but it often (even with many nasi biryani stalls) came up overcooked and dry – getting stuck between teeth, so I avoid it if I can. It was therefore a little incredible to read reviews describing Yakader’s mutton as, well, pretty much everything mutton’s not supposed to be. Yet, as I spooned into the meat with such ease, I just couldn’t believe my touch. The mutton was supremely tender, it was soft – not requiring the pressure of even a fork – but not mushy…just perfect, really. If you don’t like the strong flavor of mutton, Yakader’s not going to persuade you otherwise, but if you do get past that, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best mutton you’ll ever have in your life. Paired with the lovely basmati rice, and all that moisture, flavor and absorption that makes dum biryani preparation so flawless yet so good, you could eat it on its own. I barely even touched the curry, to be honest, not that it was bad, but the meat and rice was such a perfect mash-up, I just forgot to have it with curry.