Much like dialects, biryani too changes its tone and tenor from region to region. Representative of India’s myriad culinary traditions, it is fast making its way to office desks and luncheons, replacing burgers and pizzas that have dominated the order-in/takeaway imagination of Indians for decades. Its ease of consumption, familiar flavour profile and nutritional value have contributed to turning the complex dish into a sturdy contender in the intensely commercialised fast-food space.
And the start-up world could not have stayed incognisant for long. With the recent Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) and cloud kitchen proliferation, biryani has emerged as a go-to dish. Last year, the food delivery service, Swiggy, revealed that chicken biryani was the most ordered dish of the year. During the Wimbledon and FIFA finals, Zomato too witnessed a surge in biryani orders.
“Everybody is consuming biryani as a fast food. I saw an opportunity in fresh, dum-cooked biryani, the way it’s cooked at home,” says Kaushik Roy, Founder and CEO, Biryani By Kilo (BBK), “Ours is duly cooked in a handi and delivered in the same pot that it is cooked in.” Similarly, The Biryani Project, a relatively new entrant in the segment, delivers “made-to-order” biryani. But for the founder, Adit Madan, it was to “serve Delhi varieties of biryani, other than Hyderabadi and Lucknowi,” that he founded the cloud kitchen. Bohri and Godavari are other offerings on their menu.
While Roy attributes the upswing to the “convenience of packaging, delivery and consumption”, Madan puts it down to “a general shift towards regional Indian food”. “People in Delhi are trying to savour the unique flavours of their own country. This can be substantiated with success stories of Mahabelly, Pot Belly, Carnatic Cafe, Suruchi and others,” he says.
But before the start-up world co-opted the regal one-pot dish, several home-caterers were satiating Delhi’s biryani cravings. Sadia Durrani and Shabeena Naseem have been serving biryani for over two decades. But the QSR and online delivery services boom seems to have hit them hard. “I don’t get as many orders as I used to,” says Naseem. While it is difficult for independent caterers to match the muscle of these start-ups, Hasib Ahmed, another Delhi-based caterer, believes that “getting ourselves enlisted on major delivery platforms will help us to draw in more orders”.
The inability of popular biryani joints like Arsalan and Aminia in Kolkata, Paradise in Hyderabad or Dindigul in Tamil Nadu to replicate their success on a pan-India level has aided the establishment of cloud kitchens like BBK and The Biryani Project, who are now hoping to mimic QSR scalability. “While we don’t have data, this is the only food item that can truly go international and we believe it will be the biggest food services category from India. We think it can overtake burgers, pizzas and pasta in India, and hopefully, in the West as well,” says Roy, who is working on leads from the UK and Dubai currently and is gearing up to take BBK international next year.