A THOUSAND PLATES AND MORE…
Some people say it is my quest for the hunt; I say it is my ‘kismet’(destiny) that I come across these places whose food speaks volumes about the ’barkat’ (blessings) that they hold. It is only divine and unadulterated love for feeding people and watching them enjoy a meal that can bring a food joint to such a pedestal.
Creative that my mindset is having dabbled with art and music I decided to dabble with yet another exciting venture-pottery though food remains my all time consistent companion in my search for bliss. The impulsive madness to design pottery using tribal motifs took me to Khurja in UP on the Aligarh highway famous all over for its pottery. En route to Khurja it was imperative (of course) that I stumble upon one such street corner in Sikandarabad. Thank God my Sweet Lord for exposing me to such interesting gastronomical temples which add the fire to my palate; Aas Mohammad Ki Sikanderbadi Biryani is one such example. Delicious, delectable, to die for. Light on the belly, even flavours, good grains of rice and an uncompromised recipe-love, of course.
The first time I chanced upon this place, I barely managed to get a few plates of chicken biryani, and it was 9:30 in the morning. Then on it was beef biryani that was to be served, and according to them till 10:30-11.00 am, all of it would be polished off. So I asked the fellow at the stall the schedule. He starts setting up his stall at around 7.00 in the morning. The morning quota of chicken and beef finishes by 11.00 am. The next phase starts at 01:00 pm and lasts till 2:30 pm. Lunch times barely passes when Aas Mohammed’s helpers start their evening arrangements. By 4:00 pm the biryani stall reopens and by 6.00 pm, shop shuts. This is a routine which has been persistent since 14 years now. Biryani freshly cooked on charcoal fire.
When I had reached this crowded place next to a busy street in Sikandarabad, I wondered who would come and visit this place early in the morning for a plate of biryani. I got my answer in less than five minutes. Within no time, the place was filled with people, all standing next to the stall waiting for their first meal of the day. People had come in cycles, cars, motorbikes-all clumsily parked next to the stall. There were buses, and trucks honking on the street, worse still a horrible traffic jam. But nevertheless, there was an extreme sense of peace in the place. Nobody was yelling at the person serving at the stall. Nobody was actually yelling at nobody. It is strange to observe people sitting peacefully, waiting for their turn for the biryani. An apologetic driver who had just splashed some mud while reversing his car on a person standing next to stall eating his biryani, came for his share of food. No, there was no animosity, but gentle glances of ‘it happens’, and both continued to savour the flavour of the biryani. I was wondering what blessing this place has, that has tamed an unusually angry race of humans.
After having savoured the magical flavour of Aas Mohammed’s biryani-I felt an inane desire to meet him in person-I asked for him and I was ushered into a big base kitchen where I encounter the man himself working with a fellow worker in draining out the water from the soaked rice. He looks at me with a smile and I reciprocate and we knew there was an instant connect.
”As-salaam-wale-kum” , I say
“Waale-kum-as-salaam”, he replies.
“Aap kaise hein (How are you?)”, I ask.
“Allah ki rehmat hai (I am fine by the grace of Allah)” , he replies.
Before I could speak any further, he promptly offered me a plate of freshly prepared biryani as a welcome gesture. Never did it occur to either of us that he was actually offering me beef biryani. He could probably instantaneously connect with my foodiness than my religion. I’d like to believe, Aas Mohammed is always careful before offering biryani to non Muslim people. Indeed I was immensely happy when I saw his inhibition disintegrating amidst the aroma and transcending to the delight of serving his food to people who genuinely loved it. I gobbled up my third plate of biryani (had two plates earlier in the pre-introduction stage) and rose from my seat satiated and emotional. The experience was no less sufiana.
Apart from the biryani, the stall also served some rustic seekh kebabs. The juicy meat carried a distinct flavour of green chilies and aromatic spices. The rough rustic texture of the meat gave me immense delight.and they were hand pounded, though I did not bother cross check as I was too engrossed relishing them and packing almost half a dozen plates for friends back home.
Spoons are readily available, but Aas Mohammed insists we have the biryani with our bare hands. He sells over a thousand plates a day at the rate of Rs. 25 for 250 gms, and employs around 7 people. Blessed by Almighty, as he puts it, he has been able to invest in property and has been able to buy cars. But he also understands that his ‘barkat’ is this place, and hence refuses to move out and start a bigger entity. We parted company with a promise to meet again; this time, at my place. I told him, I’d prepare some korma for him. He heartily accepted my invitation with a condition that he brings the biryani.