The cultural shock is the beginning and the end of each stay abroad. If once one lived in a foreign country for several months, one have become familiar to the habits, the language and manners. Because of this returning home isn’t always easy. One say “goodbye” to the familiar stranger and the unknown who has turned into a friend. Suddenly one’s former home where one breathed the air right from the cradle, played on the streets and flounced around day- in and day out, seems to be totally different and somehow unknown. But that isn’t the only point which one will miss sorely of the new home. Besides the distant living friends, it’s mainly the wonderful memories – and the food. What would be my India memories without the local, for the European kitchen very spicy dishes. That’s exactly what I wanted to experience again: the taste of India. Therefore my Brazilian and I dared a bold as well as expensive experiment: We cooked the original Hyderabadi Biryani.
Already the grocery shopping turned out to be extremely complicated. For the preparation you need at least eight different spices. Just a few of them are available in Brazilian supermarkets. On the long buying list, there were cumin, saffron, green and red chili, garam masala, green cardamom, coriander, mint, ginger, turmeric and cloves. Especially the hunt for the yellow gold, saffron, was fraught with difficulties. Neither in the grocery store nor on local markets we could find this spice and so we had to admit defeat. As a substitute we used turmeric. Another challenge was the purchase of basmati rice. Although Brazil is considered to be the ninth largest rice producer in the world, one can almost exclusively buy long grain rice. In Mercado Central, a huge local grocery store at the heart of Belo Horizonte, we were finally able to find it. For about 34 Reais, converted eight Euros, we bought a one-kilo package. Extremely expensive for Brazilian standards. All in all, we paid more than 100 Reais for the spices, the fresh ingredients, the rice and the chicken. An expensive experiment. The tension was even bigger that the biryani has to come off.
On a Saturday afternoon, we started with the preparations. First we had to divide the chicken into bite-size pieces. Of course with bone. Because in India, one can always find in curries and biryanis one or the other bone, a clove or cardamom. None of this should be eaten. While my Brazilian divided the chicken, I worked my fingers to the bone: I had to cut garlic, ginger, mint leaves, eight chilis and fresh coriander. I prepared a paste out of the garlic and the ginger. The other ingredients were chopped to a marinade. I made the mistake that I opened the lid of the mixer immediately and checked if everything is chopped. Because of chili flavors tears welled in my eyes and I began to cough incessantly. Both, the paste and the marinade were mixed with the cut chicken parts.
Lastly, we added two cinnamon sticks, three cardamom pods and a few cloves to the chicken. Then other, traditional Indian spices such as turmeric, garam masala and spicy chili powder followed. Finally, the chicken was salted and scrambled with plain yogurt. After it had to rested for two hours in the refrigerator and the spices could develop its sense of taste. While we were waiting for the chicken, we figured out that there is no large pot in our modest household, in which we could prepare the biryani. Therefore, we had to call the mother of my Brazilian in great distress. After more than an hour she brought us two pots.
Meanwhile, we already soaked the basmati rice in water, so that it could absorb the liquid and became softer. After we could start to cook. The tension increased more and more, if our experiment would succeed. For now everything depended on the perfect cooking time and the exact temperature.
First we had to pre-cook the rice for eight minutes. Then the chicken pieces was added to a large pot together with the marinade and two tablespoons of ghee, Indian ghee. Because we had no ghee, we used salted butter. That should be alright for our purposes. After the rice was layered on the chicken which should be doused with saffron milk. Here again there was a lack of an important ingredient: the saffron. As I read that the saffron should just be used as a dye, we decided to color the milk with turmeric. We covered the pot and bound fast the lid with a cloth, because the pot should be sealed air-tight. Now we had to wait another 40 minutes. The tension was getting bigger and went sky high. Anyway it already smelled like in India’s kitchens. At least as it was in my memory The sharpness of the chili was in the air as well as the incomparable scent of masala. A sensuous delight for my nose.
And then it was done. Our own Biryani. A nostalgic confession to the Indian times and a reversion to our regular visits in Food Inn. But the most famous Biryani restaurant in Hyderabad was the Paradise Food Court near the NTR Gardens in the city center. Of course while waiting we had prepared Raita and Side Gravi, two sauces that are served traditionally with Biryani. Three and a half years after our trip to India we were about to eat one of our favorite dishes. As traditional Indians we ate with our right hand. The Biryani was an unexpected delicacy and my taste buds went haywire. Although it was – despite the eight chilis – less spicy than on the subcontinent and the rice was slightly too soft, the nostalgia took full effect. The experiment had succeeded. And we will do it definitely again.