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Indian Express Stories of Strength

Facebook and The Indian Express bring you a series on those at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. From healthcare workers to government officials to innovators — a look at their day at work, their struggles and challenges.

Biryani in Banka: Migrants bring taste of Hyderabad home

The migrants were a group of culinary artists, specialists in making the famed biryani and kebabs of Hyderabad. The lockdown and the shutting of restaurants had forced them to return to their villages — all in Fullidummar block of Banka district.

July 4, 2020 3:09:57 pm

PATNA: In the middle of last month, when senior officials of Bihar’s Banka district administration met with a group of skilled migrants who had returned to the state from Telangana, they had a pleasant surprise — and a lot else — served to them.

There was mutton biryani, Hyderabadi chicken biryani, chicken 65, and chilli chicken, as well as a vegetarian biryani, paneer 65, and paneer chilli. Plus, a range of kebabs.

The migrants were a group of culinary artists, specialists in making the famed biryani and kebabs of Hyderabad. The lockdown and the shutting of restaurants had forced them to return to their villages — all in Fullidummar block of Banka district.

The officials were surprised to learn that some of the most storied food of Hyderabad was prepared by migrants from little-known Fullidummar, which has been exporting cooks and chefs to that city for many years now.

Biryani in Banka: Migrants bring taste of Hyderabad home Officials were surprised to learn that some of the most storied food of Hyderabad was prepared by migrants from little-known Fullidummar, which has been exporting cooks and chefs to that city for many years now. (Express Photo)

A skill-mapping exercise that the district administration carried out subsequently, drew up an impressive list of hotels and restaurants in Hyderabad where the cooks had been working before the lockdown: Paradise, celebrated for its biryani, the Sky Garden and My Friend’s Circle restaurants, restaurants at the Golf Club and Country Club, and hotels including Baseraa. The skill-mapping exercise is ongoing, but for many, a new “culinary hotspot” has already been established in Fullidummar.

The food and its cooks obviously got excellent reviews from the officials, who included the district magistrate and superintendent of police of Banka. But the big question after that meal was: how to engage this exceptional talent that they had discovered?

Biryani in Banka: Migrants bring taste of Hyderabad home Banka district magistrate Suharsha Bhagat told The Indian Express that some of the cooks and chefs who have returned from Hyderabad, a city with a formidable reputation for good food, were of “international standard”. (Express Photo)

And the solution found by the district administration was to initiate the process of getting at least 10-15 partnership firms registered for these culinary specialists as MSMEs. To ensure that they qualify for the government’s upcoming catering and housekeeping tenders, the administration has given them catering responsibilities for several large meetings that have got underway ahead of Assembly elections due in October-November.

The administration has also floated catering and housekeeping tenders for its four circuit houses, which could be worth about Rs 1 crore annually. A large number of those who have returned are also skilled in housekeeping. In all, over 5,000 chefs, cooks, stewards, waiters, doormen, and housekeepers have returned to Fullidummar from Hyderabad and Secunderabad, officials said.

Banka district magistrate Suharsha Bhagat told The Indian Express that some of the cooks and chefs who have returned from Hyderabad, a city with a formidable reputation for good food, were of “international standard” – and that the administration was working to help them to continue to utilise their extraordinary talent.

“Banka ka Zaika (The Taste of Banka) is one name that we have in mind for the first of the firms. We have been able to engage 40-odd people, and larger numbers could be involved as the election process picks up pace and catering needs increase. All these people will get a lot of work until the election, and we can give them whatever housekeeping and catering work as is legally possible,” the DM said.

Dharmendra Kumar Rai (35) of Rata village of Fullidummar block said he was an “all-rounder who specialised in Chinese cuisine at the Gold Club” in Hyderabad. He was getting a salary of Rs 27,500 per month, he said – but the epidemic had destroyed the food business, and he had had to come back.

“We do not have much agricultural land. Good cooking is all that we know. We are very happy that the government has started engaging us. We are now making food for 100 people every day on average,” Rai said.

Ranjit Kumar Yadav (30) of Ghutiyara village of Fullidummar said he used to work in My Friend’s Circle restaurant. “I am a Hyderabadi biryani specialist. I used to get Rs 22,000 per month. But I am now excited about Banka ka Zaika. We hope there will be no need for us to return to Hyderabad. Thousands of workers have come back, and we are also taking up individual catering assignments for weddings etc.,” he said.

The “branding” help from the the district administration had been a great boost, Yadav said. His family has less than five bighas of land, he said, and his relatives have been going to work in Hyderabad-Secunderabad for over two generations and 30 years.

Yadav said Pathhatta panchayat of Fullidummar alone had seen the return of over 1,000 people working in the food and hospitality industry, including doormen, waiters, stewards, cooks, housekeepers, and chefs. Sanoj Kumar (35) of Rata, who worked as a supervisor at the Taj Family Dhaba in Hyderabad, said: “I hope we are able to turn this crisis into an opportunity. Who doesn’t want to live in their own home and also earn well?”

Senior Treasury Officer Nawal Kishore Yadav, the nodal officer coordinating the project of engaging this workforce of chefs and cooks, said: “We want the MSME firms to be set up as early as possible. One circuit house alone has an estimated annual catering and housekeeping budget of Rs 20 lakh-Rs 25 lakh. Plus, there are guest houses of the tourism department as well.”

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