Below is a picture of what biryani is supposed to look like, so I'm told. I took it with my cell phone, so it's not of the best quality, but according to the menu at Paradise restaurant in Hyderabad, the grains of rice in a biryani should all be separate — no sticking together.
Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state, claims to be the birthplace of biryani, and the best place to eat it. And Paradise, by several accounts, is as good a place as any to get it. So while the franchisors on the trade mission were having their late morning speed dates, I hired a driver to help me find mangoes and to take me to Paradise.
When I worked in Thailand, a place with very fine mangoes as far as I and the Thais are concerned, my Indian colleagues would snigger and laugh at the local fruits, declaring them to be inadequate shadows of real Indian mangoes.
My pre-trip research indicated that mangoes were in season now in India, and although the people of Mumbai told me it was a bit early for the prized fruits yet, they agreed that I might have better luck in Hyderabad, farther south.
The Hyderabadis laughed at me — about as politely as you can laugh at someone, but they laughed — and suggested I wait a couple of weeks before trying mangoes.
I pointed out to them that I was in India now and would not be in a couple of weeks, and suggested that perhaps with Indian mangoes being so good, even those that were not at the peak of season might possibly be the best I’d ever tasted, and they agreed that that might be so.
So I had my driver take me to the fruit market. To see what we could find.
There weren’t a lot of mangoes, but there were some, and after wandering around for awhile the driver recommended a stand to me, and I bought a kilo of mangoes for 40 rupees — about a dollar.
They had the great floral aroma of a good mango and the promise of a complex and nuanced flavor that I would expect from an excellent piece of fruit.
Delighted with my purchase, I headed to Paradise for lunch and had mutton biryani.
What can I say? All the Biryani I’d had in the past was basically rice pilaf with meat in it, and so was this. The distinguishing characteristics were very long-grained basmati rice that didn't stick together and a strong but not overpowering cardamom aroma. This being Andhra Pradesh, which claims to be the state with the spiciest food (although I’m told that some people in Tamil Nadu would beg to differ), there was also plenty of chile in the rice.
It was tasty. I suppose it might have been the most delicious biryani I'd ever had. I don't know. It was hardly worth a trip to Hyderabad to eat, but since I was there already I was glad for the experience, and to have a benchmark for what is considered great biryani.
Back at the hotel, I had the staff peel and slice my mangoes for me, which they did with alacrity.
And let me tell you, they were terrible. The flesh had the right orange color, glistening sheen and slippery texture of a good mango, but it was soulless and sour, and I was sorely disappointed.