Keralites have enjoyed a long love affair with biriyani. This preference led to the launch of the first Timur Kachi restaurant at Thammanam road in Kochi three years ago. The success of the first outlet led to the opening of three more branches in Ernakulam.
Pauly Antony, the entrepreneur behind the restaurants, relates how he made the name of a foreign conqueror familiar to Keralites by serving a specially-prepared biriyani.
“I used to run a tile factory in China and frequently travelled to that country. When both our children went abroad for studies, my wife Bindu became alone at home,” he says.
“We discussed how Bindu could overcome her boredom and decided to start a business. It was during the same time that Mohammed, a chef at a hotel in Bahrain, returned home. We felt that opening a biriyani special restaurant with Mohammed as captain would be a good idea as he was an expert in preparing all kinds of biriyanis from around the world,” adds Pauly.
Another aspect was naming the restaurant. A grand-sounding name could attract customers to a new restaurant serving a special biriyani and Timur, the name of a conqueror from middle-east, was chosen along with 'Kachi,' meaning 'love.'
Advantage of pure ghee
The first restaurant, opened at Thammanam, offered Hyderabadi and Malabar style biriyanis with mutton, chicken, beef, fish and prawns. However, sales were very dull during the first couple of months. This prompted Pauly to distribute the biriyanis free of cost. By the end of four months, people began arriving at the restaurant to taste the specially-prepared biriyani. The name and fame of Timur Kachi soon spread everywhere by word of mouth, thanks to these first patrons.
“The major difference between the biriyani prepared at Kachi and others is the ghee used,” informs Pauly.
“Artificial ghee that is readily available in the market gives a sticky texture to the biriyani made by other restaurants. This ghee remains on the hand of a customer even after washing. Moreover, most people feel drowsy after having a fill of such biriyanis,” points out the entrepreneur.
“We decided that only pure ghee would be made use of in our preparation, even if the costs go up and we suffer a loss,” explains Pauly.
A trip to Timur Kachi's restaurant at the first gate on Franklin Gardens road off Container Terminal road would help foodies learn more about the making of the biriyani. Everywhere around the two-storey building, the sweet scent of the masala mix prevails. Inside the hall, mint and coriander are kept finely chopped. The chefs would be busy cutting chicken and preparing rice.
“The first step in the preparation is cutting meat into moderately-sized pieces. Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mace and nutmeg are then turned into a mixture, which is applied to the meat. The next step is making another mix with grinded coriander, mint, garlic, ginger, onion and tomato. It takes at least an hour for the masalas to blend with the meat,” says Pauly.
Meanwhile, rice is cleaned and kept on the stove. “We use kaima (jeerakasala) rice,” informs Pauly. When the rice has been cooked “around 40 %”, it is removed from the stove.
Then a round-shaped vessel is taken and the chicken that had been given masala coating spread at the bottom. Above this meat, the partially cooked rice is added. Over the rice, melted ghee is poured evenly. Water in which saffron flower is dissolved, masala powder, mint leaves and coriander leaves are also carefully spread over the rice. The vessel is covered with a lid which is sealed with 'maida' dough. The 'dum' is later opened after 45 minutes.
When the lid is removed, the sweet scent of Timur Kachi special biriyani spreads everywhere. The rice, which had the colour of jasmine flowers before, would have turned light yellow. With the help of a long ladle, a portion of the biriyani is taken from deep at the centre. “The rice at the top and bottom would be cooked differently. So, the biriyani cannot be served like ordinary rice. It has to be thoroughly stirred from the top to the bottom of the vessel. Moreover, the meat fully cooked under the rice has a unique taste,” informs Pauly.
When served on a plate, you notice that the meat in the Kachi biriyani comes off with a pinch, the ghee does not stick to the fingers and that the sweet scent is heavenly. After tasting the dish, wash your hand; the ghee does not remain on the finger.
Timur Kachi restaurants now function at Thammanam, Kalamassery, Edappally and Pallimukku in Kochi. Apart from biriyani, ‘appam’ and fish curry are also served from 10.30 am every day. “For customers preferring lunch, fish curry meals and beef ‘idichathu’ are available,” says Mohan Vettath, managing partner of Timur Kachi.
The proprietors of Timur Kachi restaurants term their signature item as ‘Pure Kerala biriyani’. It is recognising this motto that the Timur Kachi biriyani won the Metro Food Award for 2017.