A brimful of biryani
Some of the best biryani in Mumbai is served by the kilo by specialised caterers. Here are four top guys to get your party started
A family legacy
Gufran Gafoor deserves brownie points for his honesty when we ask him what sets his biryani apart from others. "Ab yeh toh haath ki baat hai. Sabka alag alag hota hai," he tells us, explaining how an "unnees-bees" in even the amount of salt can determine the fate of a certain batch. The 50-year-old's father, Abdul, set up Mohammed Gufran Abdul Gafoor Caterers 35 years ago. The family is one of the few such caterers in Mumbai whose origins lie in the city. Abdul used to be a mill worker for 13 years before he started this business, which his son took over. "People knew my father in the area, and as I used to work with him since I was a child, they were acquainted with me when I started managing the business full-time," Gafoor says, explaining how word-of-mouth helped his catering business become one of the most notable in the foodie hub of Mohammad Ali Road. He adds, however, that he sources most of his ingredients from the wholesale market in Navi Mumbai, which is quite a distance to cover for someone based in SoBo's Madanpura. But it goes to show the dedication with which the son is carrying his father's labour of love forward.
Cost Rs 800 (1 kg of chicken biryani)
Learning the right way
A sizeable section of people in the biryani catering business in Mumbai hail from one city in UP — Bahraich. That's where Mohammad Shahid Khan also came to Mumbai from in 1996. The first job he got was at Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Durbar, an iconic eatery for Mughlai cuisine. "After starting out with odd jobs there, I was eventually entrusted with tasting each dish before it was sent to the customer. Jaffer Bhai would tell me, 'Whatever the dish is, taste it 10 times before you give it a thumbs up.' That taught me a lot about the nuance of flavours, and I also learnt how to cook biryani and daal gosht," Khan says, adding that this gave him the confidence to branch out on his own in 2008.
Mohammad Shahid Khan at his shop. Pic/Sameer Abedi
But things weren't easy in the beginning. "There weren't too many orders coming in, and at times, I wouldn't even have the rent for my shop in Powai. I gradually earned a name for myself after catering for small parties. I now deliver all over Mumbai, from Vasai to Parel, apart from Pune, too," Khan says. He adds that he steers clear of the "frying-pan biryani" typical of Mumbai and sticks to "the original" dum biryani. What else would you expect from a man who earned his chops at a legendary restaurant?
Cost Rs 500 (1 kg of chicken biryani)
First to the post
Arshad Ali Samruddin Shah. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Naimi Caterers is the oldest business on this list. Haji Kamruddin started it all of 50 years ago after he shifted to the city from Azamgarh in UP. The man began by cooking for some of the more prominent Muslims in Mumbai. Later, he set up the first biryani catering centre in Malad's Malvani area, which, today, is dotted with over 50 such shops. Kamruddin's son, Arshad, then started running the show 25 years ago and he says that while his father would serve around 40 people on an average day, that number now reaches 4,000 sometimes. Arshad says, "We need an advance notice of two days for large bulk orders." But he adds that this time is needed only to source the ingredients, since the actual cooking — and this holds true for everyone else on this list — is done on the very morning of the function. But while people would earlier ask them to cook at the venue, a space crunch in Mumbai now means that the dishes are pre-cooked and ferried to the location.
Cost Rs 650 (1 kg of chicken biryani)
Utterly butterly delicious
Salim Bhai's biryani set up at a function
It was at a friend's birthday recently that we tasted Salim Bhai's exquisite biryani. It is, quite simply, one of the best versions of the dish that you will get in Mumbai. A subtle flavour permeates through the rice, which has none of the greasiness that you find at many other places. The reason, says the migrant from Lucknow who runs Royal Caterers, is simple — he doesn't use oil. "We use butter instead. That's our secret. And the best thing about it is that the butter gets infused with the rice and adds to the flavour. It doesn't lead to any 'chiknahat' on your fingers either," Salim says about the arbi dum biryani he's famous for, which our friend — who works in a production company — often orders for in bulk when they have outdoor shoots. Salim adds that the addition of butter also means that his biryani is more expensive than that of his competitors. But come the wedding season — which is the most profitable time for all such caterers — his biryani plates still sell like hot cakes.
Cost '1,400 (1 kg of chicken biryani)
Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from Mid-day.comSubscribe
Naitik Nagda talks on garba and dandiya music in Navratri