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Biryani recommendations

Who makes superb biryanis in the greater boston area?

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  1. I'm going to totally make myself look bad-- but I find the frozen briyani that they sell at Trader Joe's to be really yummy!

    Haha, not the answer you were looking for, but I figured I'd throw it out there!

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    Trader Joe's
    1427 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

    1. There are sadly no superb biryanis (or Indian food for that matter) in the greater Boston area.

      tb

      5 Replies
      1. re: trueblu

        Really, trublu? I have had some very nice Indian meals in the Greater Boston area. I base my experience on my eating Indian food in the UK, where I lived for many yrs., and have found many places here that are just as good. Maybe my expectations of what Indian food shld be is different from yrs.
        nasilemak, I don't eat bryiyani, so I have no suggestions for you.

        1. re: CookieLee

          I'm from England, and my experiences are rather different. As a case in point, in most Indian restaurants in the US you can order your korma 'spicy' or your madras 'mild' -- which makes a mockery of the traditional (English-style, not authentic) Indian dishes. I also find most of the dishes are just far, far too sweet -- in keeping with the americanisation of most ethnic dishes.

          I've also not found anything close to authentic-style Indian 'chaat' street food, or true Indian style food (most English 'Indian' restaurants are actually Bangladeshi).

          Having said that, I've really stopped going to Indian restaurants in Boston, so my search has not been exhaustive. I eat my curry at either the homes of Indian friends or on trips back to Blighty.

          tb

          1. re: trueblu

            It was a friend from London who recommended Tamarind Bay Coastal Kitchen in Brookline. He said it was the only place in Boston that served high end, London style Indian food. We love it but don't know if you will find they've sweetened their menu for American tastes.

            I don't think I will ever be able to enjoy Butter chicken anywhere else after trying theirs and the breads were outstanding.

            Photo here:

            http://www.bostonzest.com/2009/07/tam...

            Penny
            http://www.bostonzest.com/

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            Tamarind Bay
            75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

            1. re: trueblu

              To be fair, what is called a biryani in a typical British high street restaurant is pilau rice stir-fried with a protein (shrimp, chicken, lamb) and some vegetables, and a serving of mixed vegetable curry to go with it. While I like this dish, it's probably not what the OP is looking for, when you consider the preparation methods of traditional biryanis.

          2. re: trueblu

            I'm with trueblu on this:
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4927...

            Since I posted that, though, I've had several very good dishes at Tamarind Bay (see lower in that thread), and my opinion of them has gone up a lot. They even make very good lamb biryani, although it's not in the style I'm used to.

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            Tamarind Bay
            75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

          3. the Combo Biryani at The Kebab Factory is my absolute favorite.

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            The Kebab Factory
            414 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

            4 Replies
            1. re: ScubaSteve

              Is that a.k.a. the "medley" of chicken, shrimp and lamb? I had that in vindaloo form from K.F. recently and it was superb.

              Although I haven't had their biryani, I had a chicken tikka wrap from J.M.P. yesterday which was fantastic -- lean chicken pieces in a mild curry sauce with fresh vegetables, in a roti wrap, piping hot.

              1. re: chickendhansak

                As much as I love JMP, I find their chicken tikka masala disgusting. The sauce tastes EXACTLY like Spaghetti-Os!

                1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                  Well, you may enjoy the chicken tikka wrap because it's not CTM-based.

                2. re: chickendhansak

                  yes, chicken, shrimps, lamb with cashews and pistachios. they used to serve it molded but now it's just served free form.

              2. J.M.P. International Foods in the food court of the Allston Hong Kong Supermarket (f/k/a Super 88) does a very fine biryani, especially the lamb. Cafe Mamtaz in Southie does very tasty takeaway versions in the style of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and North India, as well as (what I believe is a Mughal-style) shahi pulao.

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                9 Replies
                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  as is my want, i will put i a plug for tamarind bay though i have not eaten in london. i certainly like it as much as the best indian restaurants in NYC that i have tried.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    JMP, which now has an actual menu board, is easily my favorite biryani in Boston. The food stall is entirely one family and the food tastes like good home cooking.

                    1. re: lergnom

                      Enthusiastic third on JMP: their lamb biryani is one of my favorite dishes in the city.

                      1. re: lergnom

                        i'll have to second JMP, I have been eating their biryani for years, reminds me of home in london

                      2. re: MC Slim JB

                        Really enjoyed the lamb biryani at JMP - and appreciated the recommendation. I had looked at this stall many times, but had no clue it could produce such a tasty dish - cooked to order, no less. So many Indian restaurants deliver food to tables so quickly, that you just KNOW it's sitting in a pot waiting to be doled out. Here, we watched our dishes being prepared. Thanks! Yum!

                        1. re: The Lady

                          You watched the meat being prepared from scratch? You have the patience of a saint. Or did they take cooked meat from a pot waiting to be doled out and mix it with a bit of precooked rice from another pot waiting to be doled out?

                          1. re: FoodDabbler

                            They cook the ingredients other than rice a la minute in a sauce pan. You can watch the entire process. I don't anyone would imply that rice is made to order. Anywhere.

                            1. re: lergnom

                              Do they cook the meat to order or is it precooked? I watched what they did yesterday. They take precooked meat, precooked rice, and precooked onions, stir them together in a pan for a minute or two, then serve it. This may meet your definition of "cooking" but to me it's just "warming stuff up."

                              As an aside, basmati rice that's been washed and presoaked can easily be cooked to order in 10 or 12 minutes. Places don't do it, by and large, but it can be done.

                              1. re: FoodDabbler

                                Please tell me who cooked the meat, rice and onions before the dish was assembled. The Basmati Fairy, perhaps? Or do you think they were shipped 50 kilo packages of precooked lamb and caramelized onions and cooked basmati rice?

                      3. I'm a big fan of the biryani at Shanti in Dorchester.

                        1. i quite enjoyed the biryani at Mantra.

                          1. Based on this thread, i will try JMP. I saw a show this weekend with a biryani made with a whole goat stuffed with whole chickens,stuffed with whole quails stuffed with hard boiled eggs. Now that's a biryani!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: gourmaniac

                              That was Gordon Ramsey's Great Escape...his first time trek into India. I know this is wishful thinking, but would love to come across that spicy chutney made with ants and ant eggs at a local Indian grocery store!

                              1. re: nasilemak

                                That's it. Man, if anyone knows of an Indian restaurant/caterer that does anything close to that dish in the Boston area, you would make this hound's day.

                            2. Rani Bistro in Brookline has very good biryanis.

                              1. OK, based on this discussion, I finally made it to JMP in the super88 food court in Allston.
                                Had the lamb biryani, which comes with raita. I can say that it is without doubt the best biryani I've had in the US -- very flavourful, wonderful, tender lamb.

                                I didn't try anything else on the menu today, but based on the experience, will try a few more things. It would be great if the chaat/ Bhel poori would be of the same quality, since again, not found anywhere in Boston that does anything even vaguely tasty.

                                tb

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: trueblu

                                  Glad to see you finally made it to the secret treasure of Allston's Indian restaurants. Can't help you with the poori, since the garlic naan is so good that I never order any other kind of bread!

                                  1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                    thanks for the garlic naan recommendation. I actually meant bhelpuri (probably one word), which they call bhel or something on the menu...it's a type of chaat with potatoes and a tamarind sauce. When good, it's really good, when bad terrible. I ordered the one from Rani once (and no, their biryani is not in the same league as jmp), in which the sauce was some sweet gloppy yuk, which may or may not have had some affinity with tamarind once.

                                    tb

                                  2. re: trueblu

                                    I must try this Allston food court. 

                                    The thing with biryani, as with many Indian dishes, is the absence of standardization. Biryani is cooked differently in different parts of India, and sometimes differently in adjoining homes. One's response to it depends on what one expects. One interpretation, common in Western India, calls for layering partially cooked rice, cooked meat, and crisply caramelized onions, pouring saffron-infused milk over the layers, then sealing the pot tight (traditionally with dough) and letting the dish finish over very low heat.  But there are recipes that don't use onions, recipes that start with raw meat (a famous rendition from Hyderabad), and recipes that use no meat at all.  I make a mean meatless biryani myself, if I may say so, with roasted root vegetables and sauteed mushrooms instead of meat -- a root & fungus biryani.

                                    Some sort of layering of rice and another ingredient is pretty much universal, though, across all  biryanis I've encountered, so I'm a bit puzzled how the version that calls for stuffing birds inside animals would work.  Can those of you who saw the show elaborate?

                                    The Indian arm of Penguin Books has a series on regional Indian cookery. There are several biryani recipes scattered through the volumes, all quite different from each other. The Delhi book has a recipe without onions, the Andhra book a recipe for biryani that starts with raw meat, the Sindhi book a recipe that uses liver, kidneys and brandy, and the Kerala book a recipe that calls for coconut.

                                  3. FWIW, I enjoyed the lamb biryani at Coriander in Sharon. Can't comment on its "authenticity", since I'd never had a biryani before!

                                    1. Based on several suggestions upthread I went to J.M.P. in the Allston Hong Kong (Super 88) food court today. I got there at about 12:30. They were closed, with no sign indicating their hours. I called the number listed for them and heard the phone ring across the unstaffed counter. Giving up, I got some stewed goat and pork buns from the Chinese place at the back. The pork buns were mediocre, but palatable. The goat was tough, and close to unpalatable. While I was grimly chewing my meat, my phone rang. It was J.M.P. wanting to know why I had called. They said they were serving food. Intrigued by how they could go from deserted kitchen to servable food in 15 minutes flat, I threw away the remains of the goat and went over to them and asked for lamb biryani.

                                      The good news is that their meat was indeed flavorful and tender. The bad news is that in no sense of the term is what they serve biryani. It is, as chickendhansak observed more generally above, a medley of rice and meat, not the elaborate layered rice and meat dish that a true biryani is. See my post above on biryanis in general. You cannot take fully cooked rice, chicken, seafood, etc., stir them together for a minute and present it as paella. And you cannot take fully cooked rice from a big rice-cooker (sitting unattended for God knows how long while the staff were absent), as they did, add fried onions and some cooked meat, stir them in a pan for one minute and serve it as biryani.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: FoodDabbler

                                        Interesting, since as a wise and learned person once wrote:

                                        "The thing with biryani, as with many Indian dishes, is the absence of standardization. Biryani is cooked differently in different parts of India, and sometimes differently in adjoining homes. One's response to it depends on what one expects."

                                        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                          I seem to remember the same wise person saying something about layering, as well, as universal in biryanis.

                                          1. re: FoodDabbler

                                            Not in my experience. Very often layered, yes, but JMP's is far from the first non-layered biryani I've had. I'm sorry you didn't care for it, but suggesting it's not actually a biryani is a reach.

                                            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                              What in your view is the difference between a biryani and pulao? The lines can get blurred, and this is just Wikipedia, but see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biryani .

                                              I referred above to the regional cookbooks from Penguin India. There are huge variations in the kind of meat, etc., used in the biryani recipes there, but across all the regional differences they commonly call for layering (and cooking the layers in a sealed dish on low heat till the flavors come together). Every biryani I've had in India has been layered. You might ask what Indians know about Indian food. Restaurants in the U.S., as you suggest, do not always layer. That would seem proof enough that layering is not necessary. But Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food says biryani is a "spicy dish of layered meat and rice" and Joyce Westrup's ABC of Indian Food (from Prospect Books, the excellent food book publisher) defines biryani as "oven-baked, parboiled rice layered with nuts, fruit, meat, and spices."

                                              I stress that by "layered" I don't mean simply sticking rice on top of meat and serving it. The layers have to cook together for bit so that the flavors develop and come together. The basmati rice perfumes the meat, the spices in the meat perfume the rice, and the fragrance of saffron permeates the whole. The dish at JMP, while tasty, is nothing like this.

                                              Indian food in the U.S. today is where Chinese food was in the 1970s and early 1980s. Most restaurants serve food that's only loosely based on the originals, and is designed on the mistaken belief that that is what people want. Regional food is largely unavailable. You cannot form opinions on the authenticity of Indian food (which is what the definition of biryani comes down to) based only on what's served in Indian restaurants here. It's completely OK to like or dislike dishes at Indian restaurants based on personal preference. It's not OK to decide that a dish is an authentic biryani or vindaloo or kulfi without knowing what the words traditionally mean (just as you cannot say that a dish is an authentic paella without knowing how it's traditionally made).

                                              1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                "Yankee Doodle went to JMP*
                                                A-riding on a pony
                                                Saw some meat mixed with rice
                                                And called it biryani."

                                                Sorry, sorry, couldn't resist.
                                                *Names of other Indian restaurants may be substituted here.

                                                1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                  Show me where I said the biryani at JMP is "authentic." I said it was tasty. Why do I care whether it's "authentic" or not?

                                                  1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                    My mistake, Jenny. When you insisted that what is served at JMP *is* biryani ("suggesting it's not actually a biryani is a reach"), I took it to mean genuine or authentic biryani. I have no quarrel with the statement that the dish is tasty. I said it was. But what JMP serves does not meet the accepted definition of biryani.

                                                    This (addressing lergnom now, assuming he/she was responding to me, not Jenny) is not just my "opinion". That was the point of my offering references to standard sources. It's not my private definition of biryani. It's the accepted one. Words have meaning, even ones having to do with cooking, and it's important to use them correctly. As for snobbery and condescension, I suggest it's the height of condescension to go around expressing views on what is or is not biryani without bothering to look it up. People in the U.S. are respectful about European food. They don't go around confusing Brie with Epoisses, or, if they do, don't feel they have to insist that it's a matter of personal opinion. They are getting respectful about Chinese food, as well, making an effort to understand the names of dishes and the differences in regional cuisines. But Indian food is still, as I said, very poorly represented and understood here. To insist on accuracy is not snobbery. It's a plea that a great cuisine be treated with respect.

                                          2. re: FoodDabbler

                                            Just wanted to add a note here -- above I was talking about what a typical British high street Indian takeaway calls a biryani, which is a fast-food preparation and is really more like a dressed-up stir-fried pilau rice dish. The comments about a medley were a reference to a "protein choice" on the menu at The Kebab Factory on the Somerville/Cambridge border.

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                                            The Kebab Factory
                                            414 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143