So near yet so far. This summarises Chennai’s ongoing romance with Ambur Biryani. Located halfway between Chennai and Bengaluru, Ambur was an important town in the erstwhile Arcot region that was once lorded over by the Nawabs of Arcot. The biryani from the Arcot region has now become synonymous with Ambur. No dish has probably travelled as far and touched different corners of the country as biryani. This biryani trail also arrived in the Arcot region or what was once the Carnatic Sultanate. Locals will tell you that this version of biryani was first perfected in the kitchens of the Arcot Nawabs and now has caught the fancy road trippers between Chennai and Bengaluru. There’s always time for a biryani stop.
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I was at The Ambur Canteen, one of Chennai’s newest biryani hotspots that has been set up by four partners with a strong Ambur connection. They tell me that it’s not easy to find the perfect Ambur biryani in Chennai because the best biryani cooks seldom leave Ambur. I can vouch for that, I’ve sampled Ambur biryani at weddings and homes where the local cooks make all the difference. The other factor is scale. Restaurant kitchens cannot match the scale of weddings where biryani is cooked for large numbers in large handis over wood fires. This style is also referred to as ‘badi degh’ biryani.
I’ve interacted with multiple biryani cooks who attribute the distinct flavour profile of Ambur biryani to the unique cooking style – where the rice and meat are cooked separately before bringing them together in a covered vessel in the traditional ‘dum’ style. While basmati rice might be the favoured rice varietal for the Ambur biryani, there are quite a few biryani cooks who use the small grain ‘seeraga samba’ rice that is used in the state’s other iconic biryani from the southern town of Dindigul. Other interesting Ambur biryani recipe tweaks include curd and mint leaves.
Ambur Biryani might be spicier than its Lucknowi counterpart and yet it’s usually eaten with kathirikai pachadi (locals also call this khattay baingan), a spicy accompaniment made with aubergine. Quite a few homes in Ambur also serve the biryani with dalcha, a flavourful dal preparation. The Ambur Canteen aims to recreate the authentic Ambur biryani experience in Chennai and serves their biryani with dalcha. If you’re looking for Ambur biryani in Chennai and are unlikely to be invited to a wedding where cooks from Ambur take centre stage, then these are your best bets in Chennai.
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Here’re 5 Of The Best Ambur Biryani Places In Chennai:
1. The Ambur Canteen:
It is inarguably the best restaurant for Ambur biryani in Chennai. Their key USP is the culinary production team that is all from Ambur and their rice: meat ratio that elevates the biryani. This casual diner has been one of the most buzzed recent restaurant launches in Chennai and has caught the attention of the city’s biryani aficionados. The restaurant’s cosy interiors are embellished with ‘slice of life’ images from Ambur. The menu also has room for other signature dishes from Ambur and the Arcot region like the bagare khana – a ghee rice that’s typically served with chicken qorma.
Where: Habibullah Road
2. Yaa Mohaideen:
It is one of the closest versions to the Ambur-style biryani, the Yaa Mohaideen journey began in a small, almost nondescript eatery in Pallavaram not far from the Chennai airport. It grew from a neighbourhood phenomenon to a popular brand in Chennai and is now present across the city.
Where: Multiple Outlets
It is one of Chennai’s most iconic restaurants, Buhari was a trendsetter in the post-independence dining scene in Chennai (that was Madras) before growing into a chain with a Chennai-wide footprint. The restaurant claims to be the inventor of Chicken 65 but is equally well-known for its biryani made with long-grain basmati rice. It’s one of the closest versions of Ambur biryani and tastes best at its flagship outlet which pioneered the concept of late-night dining in the city.
Where: Anna Salai
4. Ambur Star Briyani:
Hasin Baig can take some of the credit for popularising Ambur biryani. Legend has it that he was a cook in the kitchens of the Arcot Nawab before setting shop in his hometown Ambur. What started as a small establishment has grown into a powerful brand a century later. Ambur’s Star Briyani (they like to spell it as briyani) is run by direct descendants of Hasin Baig and continues to thrive on his reputation.
Where: Multiple Outlets
5. Cloud Kitchens:
These places make some of the best Ambur biryani in Chennai against orders. Hayat Caterers and Little Oven are among the popular options for authentic versions of this flavourful biryani. Most of these cloud kitchen options typically require a minimum order size that serves about 6 to 10 people and works if you are hosting guests or organising a biryani bash for your office.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie – a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.