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B for biryani!

Think biryani. Smell biryani. Eat biryani. Love biryani.

That’s the motto Calcuttans lived by on Saturday and Sunday, proving their love for the meat-and-rice delicacy at the Biryani & Kebab Festival 2013, presented by The Telegraph and City Centre, in the Kund area of City Centre Salt Lake.

Arsalan, Mezban, Aminia, Shiraz, New Aliah, Chhote Nawab, Haji Saheb, Krazy Kebab, Zeeshan and Rahmania — the names we swear by when it comes to biryani and Mughlai cuisine — were dishing out plate after plate on a war-footing from noon to night.

The festival was to begin at 12.30pm on Saturday. But even before the 10 stalls could be ready with their skewers of kebabs and handis of biryani, foodies had queued up. No wonder the two-day festival was hit by a hungry tide of 85,000 (yes, that was the crowd count at the feast) by the time the shutters came down on Sunday night!

All roads — with biryani buffs walking them — led to Arsalan. Chicken Arsalan Kebab — a special cheese-and-egg-wrapped kebab — was the clear winner, followed by Mutton Biryani and Chicken Biryani. “More than 3,000 plates of biryani were sold in two days. Within 30 minutes of opening the stall on Saturday, the first handi of Chicken Biryani was finished!” said Mohammad Nizam of Arsalan. “Anything for good food! I don’t mind standing in queue for a plate of my favourite biryani, which is the Arsalan biryani,” said Soumita Das, a management student at Techno India.

For octogenarian Gurudas Banerjee and his 73-year-old wife Tripti, the Biryani & Kebab Festival was a trip down memory lane. “We used to have biryani at Aminia in the ’50s. Today we had it again. We are feeling young again!” said the former SAIL executive who lives in New Town. “It was a great festival, very well-managed.... The idea of getting 10 different restaurants at the same place really worked and resulted in a huge turnout,” said Asher Ather, a partner at Aminia. The bestsellers? Mutton Awadhi Biryani and Mutton Pasinda Kebab.

Armed with her camera, food blogger Muktadhara Ray checked out all the stalls before picking Haji Saheb. “I have never tried the Haji Saheb biryani.... I am loving their Mutton Biryani,” said the CTS employee and resident of Patuli. The Behala eatery was a big hit, selling 1,600 plates of Mutton Biryani in two days. Chicken Biryani and Chicken 65 were the other faves.

In the city to celebrate the Chinese New Year, this group of four from Taiwan read about the Biryani & Kebab Festival in t2 and turned up with Tangra resident and friend C.Y. Chung as guide. Guess what they settled for? Chicken Peshawari and Chicken Hariyali Kebab from New Aliah. The Bentinck Street biryani stop sold Mutton Biryani and Mutton Stew the most. “Whoever tried our Mutton Stew came back to say how good it was. Many got it packed,” said Mohammad Jamal Ahmed Jamal of New Aliah.

HR professional Keerti Gupta (right) fell in love with Chhote Nawab’s Kakori Kebab. “I came here for the Arsalan biryani but since they had run out of it, I thought of checking out the kebabs at Chhote Nawab. And I am so glad I did! Now I am a fan of their Kakori Kebab,” said Keerti. “This is an excellent festival! We hope The Telegraph comes up with more such food festivals,” said Keerti’s hubby, Prasenjit. Chhote Nawab was only too happy to serve up around 1,200 plates of Kakori Kebab and 700 plates of the melt-in-the-mouth Galauti Kebab. “A gentleman from Allahabad tasted the Galauti Kebab and said that he felt as if he was in Lucknow,” said Herbert Hart, store manager at the 7 Circus Avenue restaurant.

“This is the best food festival one can have in Calcutta. We had Hariyali Kebab and Tangri Kebab from Mezban and Mutton Biryani from Zeeshan,” said Salt Lake resident Amrita Deb. While Mutton Biryani and Amritsari Kebab were the top draws at Zeeshan, Rahmania rustled up Chicken Reshmi Kebab and Mutton Biryani.

One look at the photographs of the Biryani & Kebab Festival in Metro on Sunday, and there was no stopping Vishal Nigam of Tollygunge from landing up at the festival for a mouthful of Shiraz biryani. So what if he had fractured a leg last week! “We cannot hold him back where biryani is concerned,” said wife Dipali (below right). The bestsellers at Shiraz were Mutton Awadhi Biryani and Chicken Chaap. “This festival proved that Calcuttans love Awadhi food. We are happy to serve them,” said Md. Halim of Shiraz.

Emon Dastidar didn’t think twice when she heard about the Biryani & Kebab Festival from a friend. “How can I miss something like this?! I love biryani and crave for Calcutta biryani in Gujarat,” smiled the management student from Ahmedabad, settling down with a box from Shiraz.

Text: Sibendu Das

Pictures: Anindya Shankar Ray