There is something about biriyani er aloo that makes it a subject of universal adoration. But before I go rambling about my love for potato-cooked-to-perfection, here’s some background story.
Last week, my editor asked me with enough conviction so that I can’t turn her down, to write an article for this week’s issue of Star Weekend. The nice person that I am wondered, “What I could write about? Something topical? Some sort of critical analysis?”
It took me a couple of days to come up with something; I’m not much of a writer, you see. After much thought when I did pitch my idea, which I hope you realise is absolutely not what you’re about to read, she plainly asked if it would be “funny”. Now that’s a curveball, or a bouncer in sub-continental context, I wasn’t expecting.
Back to the drawing board I went and by that I mean procrastinating on Facebook. And there it was: pictures of wedding ceremonies. Cut to pictures of wedding food a.k.a the biriyani. Before you say it, no, the polao-roast set menu doesn’t count. So in the very same manner that Archimedes solved the golden crown conundrum—and created billions more math problems in the process for school kids—I had found “gold”. I would write about biriyani er aloo.
Fun fact: as I write this piece, our dedicated photographer is running down the aisles between the cubicles in the office, asking every employee if they have a picture of my subject—a potato covered in a cosy blanket of aromatic rice. A close source tells me people have been asking about my write-up, and that they’re planning on ordering some biriyani as well. Wow, my word processor is yet to produce the write-up—that too about a tuber—and the idea has gotten people salivating left, centre, right, and justified. I feel like this article has put me in a place of power. This feels nice. Also, there’s a joke in there somewhere.
So, aloo. Where do I start?
Carried over the shoulder by men in waistcoats, the aloo arrives to your table like royalty. With loud children and louder aunties in the background, it is placed strategically between you and your fellow gluttons. Your eyes find it, and it finds you. Draped in piping hot biriyani, bejewelled with succulent pieces of mutton—the aloo is here.
It plays hide and seek with you. Will it give all of itself to you? Nine more pair of eyes long to have the same object on their plates. A cosmic trance spreads across the table, and the hall, like wildfire; everyone places their silent “dibs” on the hot piece of Solarum tuberosum. As the clattering of steel utensils replaces the murmur, you fight to help yourself to a spoonful of the kacchi biriyani.
Fast forward: you somehow manage to get a piece of aloo on your plate. The joy is real; victory is yours. Your happy tears won’t season the bland rice, but who cares? You have the aloo under the command of your oily fingers. With one soft press down, the potato separates in the middle, much like the Titanic, but what’s truly titanic here is your satisfaction. The steam from inside the potato rises to mesmerise your senses, its slightly charred surface a work of art, its soft starchy centre… no, words don’t do justice.
In slow motion: the theme from Chariots of Fire plays in your head [please try this next time you have biriyani] as you push a morsel of the potato and rice in your mouth. And unbeknownst to yourself, a love story writes itself.
Real time: the aloo turns itself into savoury cotton-candy in your mouth. The taste, you ask? Maybe the Italians would know how to describe it better since they’re known to be such romantics; I can only try. It’s like the warmest hug one can offer, elevating every sense—perhaps even the sixth one—triggering the salivary glands into overdrive. The aloo is a drug; a happy not-so-little pill filled with endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, ready to overflow. It is happiness and love and all good feelings moulded into shape and form that’s cooked to nothing less than perfection.
And in that moment of euphoria, your life is complete. You have accomplished everything you’ve ever dreamt of. Yes, your parents are proud of you. Nothing compares to this feeling. You are a champion at life.
Everything you eat goes to your stomach but the biriyani er aloo goes straight for the heart. It calms you down when you need to, it pushes away every ill thought from your brain, and it embodies the “comfort” of comfort food. It listens silently, and in return, speaks volumes.
To your fingers, it is a stress ball. To your mouth, it is the pacifier. To your body, it is a five-star spa treatment.
I don’t quite know when my love for this aloo came into being, but I am glad it did. It makes me happy, with “happy” being an understatement of my true feelings. What a great conversation starter it is! Who knew a common component of a wedding dish is actually the hero of the entire occasion.
As we roll into winter and the wedding season, nothing excites me more than the prospect of downing as many aloo as I can. Because clearly, who remembers whose wedding it was in what community centre? Don’t ask for “blessings only” in gold Monotype Corsiva text. Tell me if there’s going to be kacchi biriyani in the menu and I will seriously consider taking time out of my busy schedule to make a short trip across town.
It’s safe to say that you will not remember who got married, which auntie wore what saree, or how many selfies you took 0.001 seconds after the meal. But you will not forget the delicious biriyani er aloo.
So, if you’ll excuse me now, my colleagues have conceded defeat to their craving and ordered in some quality kacchi biriyani. I must go find my true love.
Kazi Akib Bin Asad is Sub-Editor of SHOUT, The Daily Star. Find him collect puns from around the world at instagram.com/akibasad