Bhatkali: The Time When A Biryani Became The Identity Of A Community
Image Credit: Counting calories? Have this ghee-less biryani today!

If you were to simply trace your fingers along the map of India, we believe that you would be able to point out at atleast one type of biryani at most, if not each stop. For the unversed, biryani is a one-pot rice dish, where the meat or vegetables are cooked together along with the rice. The use of certain spices and masalas lend the dish a distinct aroma, flavour and colour. The technique of slow-cooking is used in several regions, like in the popular Lucknowi or Hyderabadi biryanis, which lets the flavours seep in gradually and infuse the rice with all the goodness. 

Just like the north of the Indian sub-continent offers biryani in diverse ways, the south too has options galore. Depending on the availability of the local produce and the taste palate of the people, you might observe a divergence in terms of the ingredients used as well as the method of cooking. From the Thalasserry biryani of Kerala to the Ambur biryani of Bangalore, there is no dearth in the biryani sector once you enter the coastal regions. Apart from the usual suspects, there is one biryani which is very special to a small village near Mangalore, called Bhatkali biryani. 

Community of Biryani 

Inhabited by the Navayathas today, the port town of Bhatkal played a key role in spice and sugar trade from the 8th to 15th century. In no time, these Arab traders started settling at this central point along the Western coast, resulting in a crossover of cultures and traditions. The Jain community intermingled with these traders from Iran, Iraq and Yemen, leading to the formation of an entirely new community called Navayathas or newcomers. 

Due to the coastal area, seafood has become a major part of their cuisine with mussels, prawns and squids being prepared for their daily meals. A confluence of Konkani and Middle-eastern is pretty evident in the array of dishes on offer. Bhatkali biryani is proof. 

Stepping into an authentic restaurant in the region, you would find the meat i.e. chicken, mutton or fish being prepared along with the onion masala on one tawa while the rice is cooked separately. What resonates with the popular Hyderabadi biryani is the fact that the two things are assembled one after the other. The top layer comprises of fried onions and mint leaves. 

The specialty of Bhatkali biryani is that you wouldn’t feel an ounce of oil on the tip of your tongue since it does not use any ghee or oil in the making. The logic behind this is that it keeps the long-grained basmati fresh for long. This may not match your conventional taste of biryani yet the onion-garlic-chillies combination along with the use of curry leaves, gives you a lingering pungency and sweetness that stays on for long after it’s over. 

In fact, there might come a point where you would feel that there is an overload of onions but watch out, because it is generally accompanied by a mashed onion masala too. Since the layers are assembled and not mixed, it is best eaten by blending together the meat and rice with your own hands. 

So you are ready to get your hands dirty for this lip-smacking biryani?