serious biryani business

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Miss Fats apologizes for the radio silence in the last week or so.  She feels like she left you all hungry and hanging with that last post.  The good news is that she is alive, well, and most importantly, full in Malaysia.  She’d like to say more about her time in Seattle, but figures you all deserve a little taste of what’s been happening in Asia. She promises a proper instagram round up of her second week in the PNW in the coming week (there were many new tasty adventures had).

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But first Miss Fats needs to introduce you to the biryani pot.  The first four days of her trip were spent running around Singapore like a crazy person.  T and Miss Fats have never been more sweaty and disgusting in their lives as they ate their way across the city’s mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malaysian cuisines.  All long food stand lines were joined, all types of animal consumed, almost always with their hands (much more to come on this).  However on their last day, dripping in sweat from carrying their bags a whole eight blocks from the hotel to the MRT, they stopped for a breakfast at a banana curry shop just outside the Kallang rail station.  This wasn’t the first time T and Miss Fats had found themselves in this particular spot.  Just two days prior, T, always peering onto plates of unsuspecting restaurant patrons, had insisted they stop for a particularly tasty looking steaming flat bread with mysterious small bowl of sauce.  The bread resembled naan, but appeared flatter and bit chewier, as patrons pulled stretchy hunks apart using a spoon and fork (what they’ve deduced as the utensils of choice in this part of Asia). T immediately triggered her food alarm, piping up: “mmmm (two chop-licking hunger noises) I want that.”  Miss Fats was down with mysterious bread-sauce, naturally, so the two quickly sat themselves down on some weathered plastic chairs at the edge of a long communal table.  Banana Leaf curry (they actually have no idea what real name of this place is: only that it has “banana leaf” in it) resembles many of the cheap eateries that line the streets of Singapore.  Long, narrow, open air shops that house rows of plastic tables and chairs where ancient ceiling fans swish hot air around diners who mysteriously sip on hot milky tea and coffee.  Pictures of menu options line the walls with posted prices.  T eagerly pointed to another diner and went right ahead and ordered, “what they’re eating.”  It was mid-morning and the restaurant was fairly full of people: all had the same plate of bread and sauce with a coffee.  They learned that this unleavened Indian bread was called prata (also spelled pratha) and was served with a thick “gravy” which appeared to be a spicy meat-based curry-like sauce.  For S$ 1.80, you could get a fresh serving of this steaming bread business and a hot, sweet, milky coffee from the friendliest old Indian man ever (obviously he and T are now friends for life).  Miss Fats will take this over toast any day. 

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Ok, but enough on the bread.  Though she could honestly talk about that crispy, chewy taste good till the ends of time.  But she’s here to talk about the biryani pot.  Anyway, T, absolutely obsessed with both coffee man and prata from the moment she steps into this place, requested that their final breakfast in Singapore MUST be there.  Which landed the two of them soaked in sweat with all their belongings in those sticky plastic chairs.  However the two of them had a serious stretch of time without food access ahead of them (a whole three hours), so they needed a big meal to prepare them for the day.  Banana leaf also offered a wide array of curries, all displayed in a glass hot case, where one simply points at whatever steaming red, brown or yellow dish of their liking as its spooned onto a huge leaf-plate.  T told Miss Fats that she “trusted her” instructed her to order whatever. With prata, of course.  Miss Fats walked up to the window and happily perused the mysterious vats of bubbling spicy goodness and a waiter quickly walked up to take her order.  She makes some lame inquiries about what specific dishes are, not completely caring because she’d rather just eat away.  Probably sensing her indecision, he asks her: “you want biryani?” gesturing toward a giant pot perched on a rickety cart next to the case.  Miss Fats, eyes popping out of her head, peering over the side of the massive metal pot saw one of the most beautiful sights of her life: a steaming heap of fragrant, rice, dotted with patches of brown and yellow from the array of colorful spices, soaking up the juices of huge chunks of bone-in mutton.  The sheer quantity and realization that a whole lamb just might be in that pot, was enough to make Miss Fats giddy.  She got real excited and ordered 2 serving of biryani and prata for them both.

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This might be her favorite part.  In order to serve up with dish, the cook simply whips out a small bowl and scoops a huge pile of the spicy rice onto a banana leaf.  He makes a second dip for a huge chunk of mutton that is nestled down into greatest rice bed of all time.  This is then topped off with a big ‘ol spoon full of mutton curry to sauce it up real good. When these meat piles arrived along side their prata and crispy papadums, T and Miss Fats’ eyes basically just fell out of their faces.  T skeptically eyed the size of her platter and chastised Miss Fats for ordering too much.  Miss Fats simply shook with excitement, basically jumping up and down in her seat like a small child.  They formulated an attack on this meat/carb excess by carefully sorting through the ingredients in front of them: rich rice, soaked in meat sauce and slightly caramelized by the ancient metal pot and still somehow perfectly cooked.  Mutton curry provided a glorious layer of meaty, dark, spicy sauce that melded with the anis and cardamom flavors of the rice, creating endless layers of savory goodness.  The hunk of bone-in mutton lay on top like the greatest “cherry-on-top” you’ll ever see: a glorious piece of slow cooked meat just barely holding on to its skeletal support.

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T and Miss Fats went right for it, ripping off pieces of fresh prata to pinch up as much curry/rice/meat action as they could.  T ended up being less of a fan of the biryani rice flavors: for some cray reason she doesn’t seem to be into cardamom.  Whatever. Miss Fats doesn’t even know how she can be friends with this person sometimes.  However, T managed to prove herself by making some serious headway through that meat party pile (this is likely do to her new obsession with all things mutton).  As the two of them took their time to nom on their banana leaf laden with all good things, they watched as person after person came in to take part in the communal biryani pot.  The small restaurant was a busy cycle of customers all ordering the same thing: the best damn plate scoop/meat heap anyone could ever ask for.  And you know that shit had been cooking for hours: just one giant pot where all the meat magic anyone could ever wish for transformed a heap of ingredients into a spicy, sacred, communal “well.”

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The pot’s status as a holy object demanded that pictures be taken in front of it.  For scale purposes: duh.  The employees at Banana Leaf mystery name curry place thought she was pretty strange but gladly humored her.  IMG_5491

Stuffed to the brim and ready for their day ahead, Miss Fats and T moved on to a hawker center in Little India for one last attempt at a sweet peanut pancake (more to come. Holy god so much more to come).  They found that in fact everyone in the whole city of Singapore (slight exaggeration), was in fact partaking in the communal pot of biryani goodness.  Huge lines of people patiently waited in winding, hot, sticky crowded lines for a big scoop of the day’s batch of biryani.  All the Indian and Muslim stands posted a single-item menu, offering up massive portions of their day’s rice/meat blend for around S$5.  The most flavorful boasted long lines that would easily have you waiting the better part of an hour: serious business.  Apparently Sunday be biryani day.  Who knew?  Well… everyone.  Regardless, Miss Fats learned a real important custom that day: every Sunday should probably involve a giant communal pot of carbs and meat.  She may finally understand why the hell Sunday is the “holy day.”  Any day that honors a vat-like cooking container dedicated to the slow development of spiced meat flavor is sacred in her book.

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