If you want to taste really great biryani, you’ll go to Hyderabad — or Canoga Park.
Hyderabad is the biryani capital of India, home to the finest examples of this sumptuous meat and rice dish. It’s in south India, co-capital of the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
And Canoga Park? You could call it Hyderabad East, thanks to the opening of Grand Bawarchi last December. The owners are three guys from Hyderabad: Manohar Aedma, Sudheer Pendekanti and Shravan Maddela.
Bawarchi means chef, and the restaurant’s grand bawarchi is Nagabhushanam Kothakonda, also from Hyderabad. A whopping 60 percent of the long menu is Hyderabadi food, not just biryanis but street snacks, curries and even dessert.
The biryanis are prepared in classic Hyderabadi dum style. Dum is Hindi for “steamed.” At Grand Bawarchi, the meat or other main ingredient is layered with rice in huge pots from Hyderabad. These are so heavy it takes two people to lift them even when empty. When filled — each holds 50 servings — the lids are sealed with foil and weighted down with cans of water to make sure no vapor escapes as the biryani cooks.
Sure, there’s lots of biryani around town, some of it authentic, much of it a mix of premade curries and rice. But not at Grand Bawarchi. The main ingredient, which could be meat, chicken, seafood or vegetables, is marinated with a base sauce made from 40 ingredients. These include green and black cardamom, dried rose petals, black cumin, bay leaves, cloves, star anise, cinnamon and dagad phool, or stone flower. Chilies too, because Hyderabadis like their food spicy. The seasonings, which are sourced in India, are customized for each type of biryani. The rice is the highest grade of basmati, with the longest grain.
The meat goes into the pot first, followed by a layer of partially cooked rice, then ghee, mint, cilantro, fried onions and, finally, a dash of saffron, which speckles the rice with golden grains. Spicy or mild depends upon how the biryani is dished up. Customers who ask for mild get portions with the least sauce.
The way to eat it is to moisten the rice with mirchi ka salan, a spicy nut and sesame seed sauce that always accompanies Hyderabadi biryani. The other traditional companion, yogurt raita, is mixed in toward the end.
Grand Bawarchi can produce an amazing number of biryanis — 19 are on the menu, including one from Chennai in another southern state, Tamil Nadu. Chef Naga can make even more, such as a biryani with flaming red chicken that appeared as a spring/summer special. And biryani is always part of the lunch combos, a different one each day.
Besides biryani, there’s street food such as jalapeños stuffed with a mixture of peanuts, sesame seeds and tamarind, coated with chickpea batter and fried. A beautiful green sauce colors paneer pudina tikka, which is paneer cheese stuffed with mint sauce and grilled in the tandoor.
Then there’s chicken majestic, or fried chicken strips seasoned Hyderabadi style and baby corn prepared the same way. Other choices are murgh masala, which is a Hyderabadi chicken curry; dry-fried goat sukha; and garlic-flavored chicken kebab, colored green with mint, cilantro and jalapeño paste.
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Grand Bawarchi brands itself as a multicuisine restaurant and so serves dishes from other parts of India such as tandoori chicken, chicken vindaloo and Punjab chana masala as well as Indo-Chinese food.
For dessert, get the Hyderabadi bread pudding double ka meetha. For this heavenly concoction, bread is fried, then soaked with sweet syrup and milk mixed with powdered rose petals. A cardamom-scented nut sauce adds richness and more nuts are sprinkled over the top. In Hyderabad, double ka meetha is a must after biryani, but you would want it no matter what you’ve been eating.
Grand Bawarchi, 7257 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park; (818) 340-7500. Lunch, Mon. & Wed.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; dinner, Mon. & Wed.-Thu., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Sun., 5:30-9:30 p.m.. grandbawarchi.com.