Photo of Ahmed Ali Khalid by Conal Thomas

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On the North Circular Road, in a small kitchen behind black shutters, Ahmed Ali Khalid lifts the skimmer, strains off the remaining oil, and places the crispy, caramelised onions to one side.

When his friend Shakeer Khaja decided he wanted to try make the perfect biryani, Khalid leapt at the chance.

Both from Hyderabad in southern India, the two friends were practically weaned on the dish. When they moved to Ireland 15 years ago, they were disappointed by what was on offer.

“Back home, it’s a very special dish for us,” says Khaja. He leans against the kitchen counter as Khalid drops more fresh, raw onion into the frier.

“To be honest,” he says. “I have never found a very authentic biryani [in Dublin].”

The Handi

Photo courtesy of Biryani Box

Proper biryani, they say, is made by cooking all the ingredients together, not with the rice in this pot, and the meat in that, and mixed up later.

That’s what Khaja says makes his biryani special. It’s a proper Hyderabad-style dum biryani.

“The way we do it is, the meat is cooked with the rice,” he says. “So all the spices and flavours blend.”

Both Khaja and Khalid have worked in it for the past decade. At the moment, they are mainly cooking for functions, under the name Biryani Box.

In the coming weeks, though, they plan to roll up the shutters and start selling their biryani for takeaway or by delivery.

Khalid lets the now-crispy onions sizzle away. It’s key to let the meat marinate overnight, he says.

Once the long-grain basmati rice is parboiled, the meat is added into the handi, the large, traditional cooking pot sat on the stove.

“Where we’re from it’s the birthplace of biryani,” says Khalid. “Kings used to make it for their armies. They wanted something that was full of protein and filling.”

Their recipes use cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, aniseed, chilli powder and cumin. There’s also a garlic-and-ginger paste. Khalid mixes these in with either chicken, lamb or vegetables.

Served with mirch ka salan, a traditional chili peppers and peanut sauce, and fresh yoghurty raita, a portion of biryani costs €10.

Gearing Up

“I learned everything from my mother, basically,” says Khalid. If he needs tips, he gives her a call in Hyderabad.

Khaja picks up a plastic container. “We may do special dishes [other than biryani] over the weekends,” he says. For now, though, it’s biryani or bust.

Marinated in yoghurt and spices, the chicken falls apart in the mouth. A kick of chilli comes through from the rice.

“We don’t just boil the water for the rice, though,” says Khalid.

“Oh no,” Khaja says. “We put our spices in it so the water itself has its flavour.”

In the handi, Khalid places layer upon layer of rice then meat. Stacked and cooked together it’s then topped with fresh, crispy onions, coriander and mint to serve.

To finish, Khaja and Khalid offer a cooling dessert of apricot-and-fig semolina.

It’ll be about three weeks until delivery and collection is up and running from 482A North Circular Road.

“We take it to our heart, biryani,” says Khaja. “Food is so important. You live for food.”

Cónal Thomas

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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