Edited to add: Sadly, Ms Anand passed away in March 2015. This review, therefore, is now more a tribute than anything else.
While I am passionately fond of food, and can cook a decent enough meal (or so possibly biased people have told me), I do tend to get cold feet at the thought of cooking for any number of people. Six is about the most I can manage—and that too with a certain amount of stress involved. So when we decided to invite the immediate family—my parents, my husband’s parents and his sister and brother-in-law, plus my sister, her husband and son—for a lunch party to celebrate our daughter’s first birthday, I didn’t even think of doing the cooking myself. Order in, we decided.
We’d been hearing a lot about Sangeeta Anand, who lives in Defence Colony and cooks biryani to order. People had been praising her biryanis left, right and centre, and what caught my attention was that the universal comment seemed to be that besides being delicious, Ms Anand’s food was low on spice and oil. The sort of stuff just about anybody could have. So my husband searched about a bit, found her phone number, and called her about two weeks before the date of our lunch party.
Sangeeta Anand does a range of biryanis. Among the non-vegetarian ones are mutton (Hyderabadi and Awadhi), chicken (Lucknowi), and prawn. For vegetarians, there is kathal (jackfruit) biryani and paneer makhani biryani. Among the other dishes she also cooks to order are shahi paneer, baingan mirch ka salan, palak paneer, baghare baingan, and—the non-veg stuff—mutton korma, mutton roganjosh, chicken zafrani, bhuna hua meat, and dumpukht meat.
We didn’t know this menu when we phoned her, but Sangeeta Anand was very helpful. My husband told her how many we’d be (eleven). And the fact that there would be one vegetarian, plus the fact that the rest of us aren’t completely hardcore non-vegetarians, so would welcome something veggie to balance out the meat part of our meal. She suggested that we order 8 portions of chicken biryani, and—for those who prefer mutton to chicken—a mutton gravy dish: korma. “And a couple of portions of kathal biryani,” she said. “Plus baingan mirch ka salan.” That sounded good—and adequate, considering Ms Anand provides raita, salad and pickle along with all orders, so we confirmed our order.
A few days before D-Day, my husband phoned her again to crosscheck, and to get final instructions. We would have to send over large microwave-safe containers the previous day, Ms Anand informed us, so that she could layer the biryani in them. If we didn’t have suitable containers, she said, she would provide her own—but we’d have to return them the day after the party. Accordingly, we sent our driver on the day before the lunch, with the dishes and the payment (all paid up in advance). On the day of the party, our driver went back at about noon to pick up the food.
As it turned out, we had underestimated the quantities of food Sangeeta Anand would send—so she ended up having to use two of her own dishes, one for part of the chicken biryani (which came divided into two bowls, there was so much of it) and one for the kathal biryani. Everything was well-secured, covered in cling film and still warm. A few minutes each in the microwave, and we were ready to eat.
Impressions? Here goes:
1. Kathal biryani: Although I am non-vegetarian, I’m fond of vegetarian food too, so I began my meal with only the vegetarian food: the kathal biryani, the baingan mirch ka salan, the raita and the salad. The kathal biryani was delicious, with perfectly cooked, neat bite-sized pieces of jackfruit, beautiful long-grain basmati rice, and just the right blend of fried onions and spices. I understood what people who’d recommended Sangeeta Anand’s biryanis meant: this was low on chillies, and low on grease. And high on flavour.
2. Baingan mirch ka salan: This, I must admit, was the one thing I was a bit wary of. I am not a fan of chillies. No matter even if they’re the plump low capsaicin variety I’m always being told is so good in pakoras or salans. The baingan mirch ka salan was a rich, pale reddish-gold gravy, thick and creamy (with a base of nuts, ground to a paste? I’m not sure), studded with tiny purple aubergines and those fat green chillies. The chillies, as it turned out, weren’t hot at all: just delicious.
3. Onion raita. Very simply made, with thinly sliced onions, chopped green coriander, salt and ground roasted cumin seed mixed into whisked yoghurt. One thing I really appreciated about this was that it was mildly flavoured enough to be a good side to the biryani: a biryani, I think, has so much flavour of its own that a highly flavoured side can get in the way of appreciating the biryani itself.
4. Salad. Thinly sliced mixed raw vegetables—carrots, cabbage, onion, cucumber, etc—with a few slices of lime, with pieces of pickled lime over the top. The pickle I could have done without; it interfered, as far as I as concerned, with the flavour of the biryani. So I gave that a miss.
The second time round. I chose the non-vegetarian part of the meal: the chicken biryani and the mutton korma.
5. Chicken biryani. This was superb. Well-spiced, with all the fragrance of mace, cardamom, cassia bark and plenty of other spices, but spices added with a judicious, controlled hand. Not fiery, not over spiced, and just the correct amount to complement the succulent chicken (which, I was glad to see, was there in abundance; I have had biryani from innumerable takeaways, where one had to search around to find the chicken). The rice itself had tons of flavour; so good that one could easily have it on its own, too.
6. Mutton korma. More than the baingan mirch ka salan, I liked the mutton korma. This had quite a bit of spice in it—both whole garam masala as well as powdered spices—but it wasn’t terribly fiery. The meat was beautifully cooked, fork-tender (and with plenty of delicious marrow bones, something that always wins me over). I loved the garnish: a generous sprinkle of roughly chopped almonds which lent a great crunch to the dish.
So that was it. A good meal, and in ample quantities. In fact, there was so much food left over that we ended up sending home our guests with some, and kept some for ourselves, to be eaten over the next couple of days! The next time round (and we’re quite certain we’ll order from Ms Anand again), I think I’ll give the baingan mirch ka salan and the korma a miss, though: while both were excellent, they do tend to divert attention from the brilliance of the biryani itself. And we’ll order fewer portions.
A few words to finish. One, a commendation on Ms Anand’s professionalism. She’d quoted Rs 8,800 as the cost to us, so we’d sent our driver—when the payment had to be given—with Rs 9,000. When our driver got there, it turned out Ms Anand wasn’t home, but one of her helpers was, and he drew up a bill for Rs 9,800. When my husband, on being informed of this, phoned Ms Anand to find out why we were being charged more than the quoted rate, was told that it had been done because the market rate of mutton had suddenly shot up. But—and this came as a pleasant surprise—she said she’d charge us at the quoted rate. At her instructions, therefore, the bill was revised.
Second, a few pointers to how to go about ordering. Sangeeta Anand needs a couple of days’ notice, especially if you’re placing a large order. If she’s already cooking a large order for someone and all you need is a portion or two, she may be able to accommodate your order.
Do give this a try. I’m very fond of biryani, but am rarely ever able to get something I like—nearly all the biryanis I’ve had from commercial establishments in Delhi (barring a pop-up stall at a Pujo pandal in CR Park years ago) have been the type I wouldn’t want to try again: too spicy, too oily, too little meat, overcooked meat, etc. Sangeeta Anand’s biryani—and the rest of her food—was good enough for me to want to order again. And it’s excellent value for money.
222, Defence Colony
Tel: 011-24610573, 9810607899, 9811043844