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Mumbai food report card: Which city eatery serves the best berry pulao

As another Mumbai eatery introduces Berry Pulao on its menu, Kiran Mehta tries four servings of the Iranian import to present a report card

Zeresh Polow, the name sounds exotic as it rolls off your tongue. The story behind it is just as intriguing. This quintessentially Iranian dish combines marinated meat, rice, and tangy berries, in a single bite. It was nicknamed ‘jewelled rice’ thanks to the fact that the zeresh (Iranian for red barberries), are sprinkled atop the dish giving it a gem-like appearance. It’s gleaming garnishing and finger-licking-good taste, made it a must-have at celebrations and events.

But how did this dish cross over to India? The Zoroastrians of Iran — not to be mistaken for the Parsis who had fled the region centuries earlier — sought refuge against religious persecution and migrated to India along with their spices and berries. Legend has it that over decades, the recipe was lost, largely due to unavailability of ingredients, until Ballard Estate’s Irani café, Britannia & Co owner Boman Kohinoor’s wife, Bacha revived it in Mumbai. We set out on a taste trail of the Zeresh Polow’s Indianised version, Berry Pulao

Jimmy Boy's Chicken  Pulao. Pic/Bipin KokateJimmy Boy’s Chicken Pulao. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Jimmy Boy
The menu at this cafe listed Vegetarian Berry Pulao at the top, followed by chicken and mutton varieties. We opted for the vegetarian and chicken versions. Though we opted for a take-away, the staff was very welcoming, allowing us to occupy a seat while we waited for our order. Service was quick. The portions of both dishes were relatively small and fit for one. The vegetarian pulao seemed much a biryani, even in appearance, thanks to a distinct reddish hue. The one aspect of berry pulao that shone through was the liberal use of berries. Given that this is historically a meat-based dish, we tried the chicken version too. This came with a side of kachumbar. The dish had additional tender meat balls lining its periphery. Somehow it lacked the flavourful appeal of the fare at Mocambo’s and Britannia & Co.
(Rating: 3/5)
COST Rs 240/ Rs 350 (Veg/Chicken Berry Pulao, tax-exclusive)
AT 11, Vikas Building, Bank Street, Near Horniman Circle, Fort.
CALL 22700880/ 22662503
TIME  11 am to 11 pm

Sodabottleopenerwala
This uber-chic restaurant styled after the iconic Irani café was packed at lunch time. They take no reservations, and when we called to ask for directions, we got a comprehensive recording, listing landmarks, the availability of vegetarian options, timings, etc. We craved the human touch.

While we waited for a table, the staff brought out a menu and a tad forcefully, asked us to place our order. Thankfully, a table was available shortly. The staff recommended the Mutton Berry Pulao and cautioned about small portions when two of us decided to split the dish. The warning rang true; it was fit for one.

The mutton was well-cooked, succulent and spiced just right. It came served in an aluminum dish. Unlike the other restaurants, here the pulao came sprinkled with sweet berries in addition to the tangy ones. While Iranian cuisine is known for its zesty flavours, we assume this was an Indian (more specifically Gujarati) influence. The sweet, spicy and the tangy worked well together. We only wish they’d been generous with their portions.
(Rating: 3/5)
COST Rs 495 (Mutton Berry Pulao, tax-exclusive)
AT 02, Ground Floor, The Capital Building, Bandra Kurla Complex.

CALL 40035678
TIME 11.30 am to 12 am

Mocambo Cafe
Highly recommended by our Iranian and Parsi colleagues and friends, Mocambo is the newest eatery to introduce the Berry Pulao on its menu. It serves chicken, mutton, vegetarian and egg versions. The restaurant is cosy, without frills and service comes with a smile.

We only wish they’d found a more workable solution to drive away the flies instead of the noisy hand-held zappers. The dish comes in a liberal portion, large enough for two, with two meat balls, a boiled egg, and a side of kachumbar. Given the price, it is a steal.

The berries, mostly serve as a garnishing and disappear as we get to the bottom of the dish. We order for a side of daal, which is unnecessary, as the dish is savoury. It is even more moist than Britannia’s. The juicy flavours make it perfect for our desi palate.
(Rating: 4/5)
COST Rs 390 (Chicken Berry Pulao, tax-inclusive)
AT 23-A, near The Bombay Store, Sir PM Road, Fort.
CALL 22870458/22871333
TIME 11 am to 12 am

Chicken Berry Pulao at Britannia & Co. Pic/bipin kokate
Chicken Berry Pulao at Britannia & Co. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Britannia & Co
The late Bacha Kohinoor, wife of Boman, the 93-year-old owner of Britannia introduced the Berry Pulao to Mumbai in 1982, asserts their son, Afshin Kohinoor. “My mother was working in Iran and came across this dish. She introduced the recipe here, with barberries imported from Iran. But it wasn’t appreciated. People found it dry and bland.” So the Kohinoor’s experimented. They added flavourful spices, made it moist with the liberal use of puree. And soon it won over the Indian palate.

“People came from near and far for our pulao,” shares Afshin. It is Britannia’s vintage decor reminiscent of the original Irani cafés that are fading away, coupled with Boman’s radiant smile and stories that adds to the experience. The dish is created in seven versions: prawn, chicken, mutton, kheema, vegetarian, paneer and egg.

We go with Afshin’s recommendation, the chicken, served with a side of kachumbar, decorated with two meat balls and the lavish use of barberries. We can taste the sour fruit in every bite and this compliments the mildly-spiced meat. The portion is fit for two. It is a meal in itself and needs no daal or accompaniments. Apart from the flavours, it’s the back-story of the dish, and the entertaining hosts, that win us over.
(Rating: 4/5)
COST Rs 550 (Chicken Berry Pulao, tax-inclusive)
AT Wakefield House, 11, Sprott Road, opposite New Custom House, Ballard Estate.
CALL 22615264
TIME 11.30 am to 4 pm

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