Ambur is small town in Tamil Nadu, located about half-way between Chennai and Bengaluru on NH 48. Primarily it is a manufacturing center. It used to be known for its high quality leather goods. The Biryani from Ambur has been a delight for people in the town and around. Owing to its location on a busy National Highway, the Ambur Biryani is also immensely popular in Bengaluru as well as Chennai and other places along the route.
If you go back to Mughal times, you could trace down the origin of the Ambur Biryani to that era. The Nawabs of Arcot who ruled the Carnatic region of South India, primarily in the 18th century had their base in Arcot (a place near Ambur), and it was in the kitchens of these Nawabs in Arcot that the Ambur Biryani originated.
Unfair as it may seem, the biryani, after all, was originally Arcot Biryani and not Ambur Biryani. Hasin Baig, a cook in the kitchens of the Nawab of Arcot, went on to start an eatery in Ambur, his hometown, by the name Ambur Star Briyani (They used to spell Biryani as Briyani). Since then, Ambur Star Briyani has become quite a legend and is today managed by Muneer Ahmed and Naseer Ahmed, both being descendants of Hasin Baig. And as it always happens, a lot of other eateries came up around it, using the same or similar sounding names, which would confuse any visitor to the area. One can also check out the Rahmaniya Hotel, a nondescript hotel also managed by the Star Briyani in Ambur.
But if you ask the locals, the best place to have the Ambur Biryani would be local homes and weddings. It is the unique cooking style of the Ambur biryani that makes all the difference to the taste. The rice and the meat are cooked separately, and then cooked together in a ‘dum’ style. For the Ambur Biryani, both the long grain basmati rice and the short grain seeraga samba (used in the other popular Tamil Biryani – the Dindigul Biryani) are used. The Ambur Biryani is generally a mutton one, but chicken versions can also be commonly found. The Ambur Biryani is generally spicier than the Lucknowi Biryani, and it is commonly eaten with Kathirikai Pachadi, also called as khattay baingan, which is a spicy accompaniment for the biryani made with brinjals (eggplant/aubergines).
A place about 15km from Ambur is the town of Vaniyambadi. In the town is the small restaurant – Kaja Restaurant. Apparently, this restaurant is said to have the best restaurant version of the Ambur Biryani.
In Chennai, the original Ya Mohideen Biryani in Pallavaram, as well asome outlets of Buhari (yes, the very same place where chicken 65 originated) also serve reasonably fine versions of the Ambur or Arcot Biryanis.
Here’s a recipe of the Ambur Biryani to try making at home:
1 kg rice (Basmati or Seeraga Samba)
1 kg chopped mutton
200 ml refined oil
2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
50 gm curd
300 g finely chopped tomatoes
400 g finely chopped onions
2 sticks of cinnamon
4 pods of cardamom
A small bunch of coriander
A small bunch of mint leaves
Half a lemon
2 green chillies
1 tsp red chili powder
100 g garlic paste
80 g ginger paste
Salt to taste
- Fry the spices in and gradually add half the onions to the oil
- Add the garlic paste, then add the ginger paste, then add the red chili powder
- Add the mutton, the salt, the tomatoes and then add the remaining onions
- Add the green chilies, cur, and squeeze the lemon
- Fry it for a few minutes adding a little water, then pressure cook it for about 20 minutes. This is the Kurma
- Cook the rice for about five minutes in a separate vessel, then drain the excess water
- Bring the Kurma and the rice together in a cooking vessel
- Add finely chopped coriander, mint and salt to taste
- Sprinkle the ghee as you layer the rice and the Kurma
- Cover the vessel with a thin cloth and cook on a low flame for about 10 minutes in a ‘dum’ style
- You could place a larger vessel with water under this vessel as a precaution to ensure the biryani doesn’t stick to the vessel