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And one day, when the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful
-Ruskin Bond

And the onions sizzled on

June 24, 2020

I closed my eyes to soak in the tangy smell of the tomato chutney, which was filling the  dusty atmosphere that surfaced all around, with a delicious aroma. I gazed at the shop's label, which, after years of standing tight had started to peel off at the creases. The ancient tape recorder sent the music of love  throughout the building, and we, the customers who had been eagerly waiting for the dish swayed with the notes of the classic, Kaho na Pyar Hain.

My keen eyes dwelved inside the building which had played mother to so many magnificent dishes. The onions sizzled on, exhaling the fresh aroma throughout the area. This was , the Barista. I remembered the good old days, when my mother used to make Dum Biryani at home. The onions, she would say, were the most important part of the entire dish. They could not be overcooked( that would smell like carbon in the pan) , or undercooked( according to mum, your cooking skills are atrocious if you ever undercook a dish). The onions have to be sizzled till they turn a golden brown , and a beautiful aroma touched the tips of your noses.  I remember mum telling me the exact proportions to which we have to make the alternate layers of chicken and rice. This, for me, was the most exciting part. 

Once or twice, I had even managed to chuck out a leg piece or two while my mum payed her full concentration to the onions. I recalled the time we had gone to visit my uncle at Hyderabad. The restaurant there served fresh, aromatic Hyderabadi Biryani. All the way there, we were forced to absorb the knowledge that Biryani was , indeed born in Hyderabad. Mum, on the contrary, kept arguing that Dum Biryani was born in Kolkata itself. I sat still between the two siblings, unable to agree or to disagree, but my  child's mind very excited  at the prospect of  tasting something new. 

The new dish was a distant cousin of the dish that I loved, but still I loved the richness of the chicken, and the heavenly aroma of the herbs and spices ; eventhough  Mum kept telling uncle throughout the meal, that this was not Biryani. Our Calcuttan Biryani is famous for its potatoes. The soft and fresh potatoes of Aloos, as we prefer to call it in Bengali, update the dish to a new position. But this was not Kolkata. This was Hyderabad. And no matter what, you have to accept that India is unique in its diversity, even in terms of food. The Dum Biryani winds a tale around its origin.

I always asked Baba , why the Calcuttan Biryani was different from other states. At this , my Baba always laughed and summoned me closer. I would come and sit near him , all work forgotten , to hear about the origin tale of one of my favourite dishes. He used to bring one hairy hand upto my shoulder and squeeze me closer, to which I would squeal and laugh , and then,  he would start the story.

It was during the time when the English East India Company were ruling the land, when they drove the King of Awadh out of his kingdom , and exiled him to Kolkata. The King was poor and penniless, and hence had to accomodate to the feeling of nothingness: something , which was very new to him. Biryani was one of the King's favourite dishes, and when one day , when he ordered his cook ( yes, the cook also came with the King) to make the dish for him, the cook was at splits. Nevertheless, he hunted down all the ingredients but realised that the amount would be too small to satisfy the King's hunger. So, very cleverly, he added three potatoes in the Biryani, as to increase the amount. The King was high in praises of the new dish and hence came forward Kolkata's very own, The Dum Biryani.  
Baba- father in Bengali 
Aloo- Potato in bengali

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  • black_and_red_ink

    this was so wonderful. Readers who are not of Indian heritage will learn a lot from this piece about the different types of biryani. I really like the story you added at the end. And of course your description was great. Good luck with the contest.

    over 1 year ago
  • Eblinn

    Your descriptions coloured this piece in golds and browns for me. This is amazing!

    over 1 year ago
  • stravelbach

    Hi - I started on a review for this piece a few days ago but had it deleted when you took the piece down? I'd love to do another review for it and will let you know when it's been submitted (hopefully next day or two) - could you keep it up until then?

    over 1 year ago
  • Starting Anew! (still Coolgirl though)

    Based on your profile pic, I can guess that you like Harry Potter...I am writing a fanfic having to do with HP (Cedric + Hermione). Check it out if you can! :)

    over 1 year ago
  • delete

    I don’t even know what biryani is but oh my goodness, I would love to try some! You’ve not only made the dish appetising but you’ve shown us how to cook it, it’s geographical origins and even a tale based around the dish. You obviously have a good grasp of your culture and I’m sure you’re going to do amazingly in this competition.

    over 1 year ago
  • Purple Pizza

    Hi there! Hope you saw the peer review I left for your piece:)

    over 1 year ago
  • Writing4Life

    So cool! I love Biryani! Damnit I'm hungry now! :'P

    over 1 year ago
  • eyes.wide.open:)

    Your onions description made me hungry!! Very cool. I love all of the cultural aspects you included, especially the story at the end. Amazing!

    over 1 year ago