Located halfway between Chennai and Bengaluru is a small city named Ambur. While this city is famous for its temples, mosques and jasmine flowers, for those in the know, it is also an important pitstop for biryani lovers.
Being a resident of Chennai, when I travel to Bengaluru by road I plan my journey in such a way that I can make a stop at the famous Ambur Star Biryani shop for lunch. And I am happy to report that I am not their only fan. Pre-covid times, many were seen trying to get a seat at their favourite restaurants or waiting in line for takeaways.
The rich tradition and legacy of the cuisine from Ambur dates back to the rule of Arcot Nawabs and Bijapur Sultans. And it’s this city that ties the tales of two women, Nazeena Habib and Amrin Fathima, into a tasty adventure. Born and raised in different parts of Ambur, the duo found themselves living in the same home in Chennai when Nazeena married Amrin’s elder brother – Mohamed Kafeel.
“Both of us are homemakers and one thing we always bonded over was food. We would exchange recipes shared by our grandmothers which were passed on to us by our mothers. Because we were from the same city, most of the recipes were similar and the mutton biryani was the best,” says Nazeena, adding that the two have always wanted to start a restaurant together that focussed on serving traditional Ambur dishes.
Though they were not able to proceed with their initial idea, when the lockdown was announced, they had enough time to revisit their plan. In July, instead of opening a restaurant, they decided to start a food delivery business and carry forward the legacy of their grandmothers.
From grandma’s kitchen
A month before the two sisters-in-law officially launched their business, they decided to name it after Amrin’s grandmother, Rabia. Before her demise in the ’90s, she passed on many recipes and secrets to most dishes which Nazeena says “tastes out of this world”.
“My grandmother was part of a joint family and every day she would manage a kitchen to cook for more than five people. When there was a celebration she would cook for over 20 people. My mother would also help her and I remember watching my grandmother grind the masala on the ammi kal (grinding stone), while giving step-by-step instructions, and explaining the secrets that made her dishes taste divine,” says Amrin.
What made Rabia’s cooking so special was strict adherence to traditional recipes, use of fresh meat along with home-ground spices.
Turning up the heat
A few weeks before the launch, the two started preparing the recipes they wanted to include in their menu. They also used this time to photograph the dishes so they could upload images of the same on their Instagram page.
Nazeena says, “Initially, we served only snacks. There are traditional snacks and desserts which are famous in Ambur but not found in Chennai such as Padar Samosa that are extra-flaky and crispy filled with meat, while gulab jamuns are rolled into a cylindrical shape. Though round-shaped ones are easily available it is difficult to find the cylindrical ones in the city.”
After they received a few orders from close friends and family members, word spread, and they started receiving 10-15 orders every day. Soon, they launched a full menu and started delivering their speciality – Ambur style mutton biryani.
Nazeena says, “With the biryani, we also pack a portion of raita, gravy, and a dessert. Apart from the biryani our menu also features kebabs, rotis, kheema, kheer and more.”
Recently, the duo also started serving ‘Pheniya’ – a maida-flour based dessert that is shaped like a wheel, deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup.
While all the raw materials are sourced locally, the spice mix is ground at home, and it is the method of cooking that sets them apart from all other biryanis served in the city.
Amrin says even though they follow every step similar to her grandmother’s recipe and style of cooking, it does not taste the same as Rabia’s. “Some secrets from our grandmother’s cooking are preparing the meat before making the rice. Usually, dum-style cooking is used for Hyderabadi biryani but our biryani uses that method because our grandmother felt this would enhance the taste of the rice and make the meat extra tender,” says Nazeena.
The food is packaged and delivered across the city through Dunzo. Till date, they have served more than 500 customers and have catered for a house warming ceremony as well.
If you wish to know more about them or place an order you can reach out to them through their Instagram page – Rabia.B.Food
Image courtesy: Nazeena Habib