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Singapore Food Series: Briyani

Briyani, is a fragrant, spiced rice dish that comes with stewed or curried meat. Brought to Singapore by the Indian-Muslim diaspora, it’s also spelt biryani or even biriyani in India, Malaysia and other parts of the world where it can be found. But a dish by any other name would smell as good – and Singapore’s briyani certainly doesn’t lose out in terms of flavour.

The Briyani Spice Medley

Briyani is an extremely time consuming dish to cook, and as a result it’s usually priced slightly higher on the hawker food price scale. A plethora of ingredients have to come together to make this perfect – the list of just the spices that go into a plate of briyani include:

  • Turmeric
  • Saffron
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Cumin seeds
  • Coriander seeds
  • Chilli
  • Bay leaves
  • Cloves
  • Star anise
  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Peppercorns
  • Fennel
  • Garam masala

That’s quite a list, and that doesn’t even include the ingredients needed to marinate and tenderise the meat! Onions, yoghurt, ghee and cilantro are also used in this dish.

A perfect briyani is cooked with long-grain basmati rice, and when cooked right is light, fluffy and flavourful without clumping or being greasy. Part of the rice is cooked with saffron, so you get a beautiful mix of white interspersed with orange-yellow grains. With basmati rice, it’s easy to tell whether high-quality rice has been used. The longer each grain of rice is, the higher the quality.

Types of Briyani

There are broadly two types of briyani available in Singapore, dum briyani and “regular” briyani. The difference lies in how they are cooked – dum briyani is slow-cooked for hours with the meat inside the pot of rice, while the other, more common, briyani simply has the meat and gravy spooned over the rice. Dum briyani is usually found in Indian restaurants, while the briyani served at Indian-Muslim or Malay food stalls at hawker centres and food courts are likely to have the rice cooked separately. An added bonus of having the briyani rice cooked separately from the meat means if you want to choose side dishes from the nasi padang (assortment of dishes on display) selection instead of the usual accompanying meat, you can.

If it’s your first time having briyani, though, go with the default accompanying meat. The most common choices are mutton or chicken, although some places will have additional choices of masala chicken, chicken curry or fried chicken. Occasionally you’ll find places serving fish, beef or even seafood briyani, but they’re not that frequently found. Whichever your choice, the meat should be absolutely tender from hours of slow cooking.

Usually served with a side of achar (spicy pickled vegetables consisting of cucumbers, onions and pineapples), it adds a delicious crunch to your meal. Adding a couple of slices of crispy papadum to your briyani is a great way to get more contrasting textures to your meal too.

So, where can you find the best of this mouth-watering dish?

Allauddin's Briyani (Tekka Centre)

665 Buffalo Road, #01-297 Tekka Centre, Singapore 210665

For Indian food, of course you head to Little India. Allauddin’s Briyani at Tekka Centre serves up meat so tender it falls apart easily with just a stab of your plastic fork.

Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant

697-699 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198675

Just a stone’s throw from Sultan Mosque, Zam Zam is a legendary institution. Having been in business for over 100 years, this restaurant is a must-visit. If you’ve a mind to try exotic briyani that include deer, crab and squid, this is the place to go. Actually, visit even if you’re just having regular briyani. Or anything off their menu.

Bismillah Biryani Restaurant

50 Dunlop Street, Singapore 209379

For dum briyani, head here! Drier than the previous options because – remember what we said about different types of briyani? – dum briyani isn’t doused in gravy, the briyani here sticks closer to its Indian roots and has a fantastically well balanced flavour and isn’t the least bit greasy.

Islamic Restaurant

745 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198713

Another venerable establishment, Islamic Restaurant has been around for almost a hundred years. Still using the same recipe passed on down by the current owner’s grandfather, the quality of the rice and meat here is top-notch.

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