Jaffer Gulam Mansuri's passing has left a vacuum among the custodians of the authentic biryani in Mumbai. Meet those who are keeping its legacy alive
These days, the biryani has been enjoying its time in the spotlight with cloud kitchens and biryani chains springing up in the city. While its history remains debatable, this one dish (in all its regional variants) is a national favourite. The deliciously complex amalgamation of flavours and spices cooked on dum in a large sealed pot, allowing the steam to work its magic and tenderise the meat in its own juices while flavouring the rice, is what heightens the experience. The perfect biryani calls for meticulously measured ingredients and a technique that requires skill and mastery that's been perfected by these culinary stalwarts.
King is king
Eight years ago, at the green lawns of Islam Gymkhana at Marine Lines, this writer sat burying her face in her hands disappointed with their in-house caterer. One goes to a Muslim wedding only for the biryani, and his was a disaster. Outside caterers weren't allowed and the bridezilla in us was getting impatient. On our way out, a man walked up to us and said, "Only Jaffer Bhai Mansuri can break this clout. They can't refuse him." The Gymkhana office confirmed it was true. Barely 20 days before the wedding, we booked an appointment with him at his central kitchen at Noor Baugh in Dongri in the hope that he won't disappoint us.
Third-generation owner, Raashid Hakim (centre) with (right) nephew Wajahat and (left) son Daanish
Well aware of his title of the 'Biryani King of Mumbai', we were expecting to meet someone pompous. Instead, a humble, old man in pristine white kurta-pyjama greeted us warmly. Jaffer Gulam Mansuri, fondly called Jaffer Bhai, spoke ardently about food and invited us to the kitchen — its walls lined with large degs (huge vessels in which food is cooked). "This is my happy place. I often join my staff when they are cooking here," he said. Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Darbar catered at our wedding but most importantly, the man left a mark. In September this year, he passed away.
Chef Bhairav Singh
His son Hasan tells us over the phone, "My father was 14 when his father — who was in the catering business — passed away. A few years later, he dropped out of KC College to enter the business and support his family; he learnt the working of kitchens and techniques. Week after week, he would make the biryani, put them in packets and go on his rickety cycle to give them out to friends and acquaintances for feedback. Sometimes, after long working hours, he'd sleep on gunny bags outside his catering shop. Gradually, with his culinary insights, he built an empire. In 2003, when he had to branch out of the Delhi Darbar brand from his brother who retained the original Delhi Darbar at Colaba, my father got the Grant Road branch. He rebranded it as Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Darbar. He opened more restaurants across Mumbai; one in Panchgani and in Dubai as well."
Jaffer Bhai Biryani
Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Darbar is an intricate part of old Bombay where families had food for their outings and swish parties catered from their restaurants. His sons who have taken over the reins are working towards ensuring that the brand their father painstakingly built remains in the hearts of its patrons with one eye on finding a new fan base among the next generation.
Call 022 23875656/57
Go for the raan
At the turn of the century, changing the Mughlai food game with its fine-dining experience, Zaffran opened its doors in the city in 2003. However, its legacy dates back to much earlier.
Raan biryani, Zaffran
"We are one of the few restaurants in Mumbai that has stayed true to our heritage and inspiration that goes back to the 1950s. An integral part of this heritage is our signature Zaffran raan biryani where a 16-hour marinated whole lamb leg is slow-roasted on charcoal embers overnight with our secret spice rub and fresh aromatics. Once it gets tender, this is layered with our signature biryani masala and carefully selected long-grained basmati rice. This is put on dum for another three hours till the rice is redolent with the intrinsic flavours of the lamb," explains master chef Bhairav Singh. "A single portion feeds seven to eight people, and remains one of our all-time bestsellers."
Subtle culinary magic
Back in 2000, veering away from the regular masala-laden biryani, Raashid Hakim, the third-generation owner of Bhendi Bazaar's legendary Noor Mohammadi Hotel, made the white biryani, and offered it to actor Sanjay Dutt for tasting.
"This was before white biryani became common at other restaurants and wedding menus. Baba instantly loved it, and that's when he shared the recipe of his chicken Sanju Baba that we added to our menu," recalls Hakim. Often mistaken for a pulao, this biryani has the meat cooked in mild spices and rich dry fruits, carrying a distinct taste of cashew nuts, infused into layers of rice and meat — cooked on dum. Since it goes easy on spices and masala, it appeals to those looking for lighter indulgence. In three years' time, Noor Mohammadi, started by Raashid's grandfather, will complete a century. Now, the reins are being passed from him and his brother Khalid to the fourth generation; Raashid's son Daanish and nephew Wajahat run the show in Mumbai and Dubai, respectively.
Call 022 23456008
Awadhi dum pukht, Dum Pukht, ITC Maratha
The Awadhi dum pukht biryani at Dum Pukht, ITC Maratha and Kebabs and Kurries ITC Grand Central, Parel, showcases the tradition of dum cooking. Here the marinated meat and long, flavoured rice is slow-cooked over a low flame, resulting in a mildly flavoured biryani where the tender meat falls off the bone. Call 022 28303030
Started in 1984 by late Farid Noorani, the founder of Haji Ali Juice Centre, to serve meat-eating masses, opt for the chicken reshmi tikka biryani at Tardeo's Cafe Noorani. CALL 022 23534753
- Cocktail biryani: Chattriwala caterers, Bandra. Call 9820267345
- Lucknowi biryani: Pacha Caterers, Reay Road. Call 9892344565
- Kabsa biryani: Anmol Caterers, Mazgaon. Call 9223263886/7
- Mutton biryani: Irfan Caterers, Byculla. Call 9820358290
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