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Eat Mumbai’s rice-less biryani this Ramzan

Mumbai's Dawoodi Bohra community has a biryani that you won't find anywhere else in the world.
Firoz Farsan in Bohri Mohalla, Mumbai

You’ve eaten the white chicken biryani at Noor Mohammadi Hotel, sampled the malpua at Suleman Usman Mithaiwala, and perhaps, chowed down a host of different kebabs no matter where you stopped. Where else could you eat in Mumbai during Ramzan that you haven’t already eaten?

If you make your way to Bohri Mohalla, the neighbourhood of the Dawoodi Bohras in Mumbai, you will be in for a surprise. There’s the ever popular Surti 12 Handi dishing out hot plates of nihari and paya with one of the thinnest khameeri roti you’ll ever eat; Tawakkal Sweets where you can eat the mawa khaja, mango malai, and khichda. On the same street, there’s Firoz Farsan Mart.

At first glance, Firoz Farsan Mart is a regular farsan shop but it’s serving one of the most legendary dishes in Mumbai. During Ramzan, they offer the Russian cutlet, chicken satay, and other such bites that you could parcel to take home. But if you move in close, your nose could guide you to a tapela sitting at the front of the shop. Every now and then the lid opens and a delicious aroma engulfs the street. Sitting in this tapela, is an age-old recipe, one that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world. This tapela holds Patrel Biryani. A unique biryani that has no rice, no layers, and no frills.

The tapela containing Patrel Biryani at Firoz Farsan, Mumbai

Photo: Junisha Dama

Biryani is a misnomer, but the Patrel Biryani, I believe, is called so just for effect. Made with patra, the popular Gujarati fried snack and buff meat, this rice-less biryani has been popular in Mumbai for decades but not so much outside Bohri Mohalla. Patra (Colocasia leaves) arrive at the store early morning from Virar. A paste is made with channa atta, chillis, garam masala, and tamarind water, which is applied generously on the leaves before they are rolled and fried. This process takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

As the patra is prepared, the meat simultaneously cooked too. Buff is prepared and fried in with garam masala, red chillies, ginger, garlic, and a methi tadka. Tiny pieces of buff are added to the pot, if it’s made with mutton the bones are added in for flavour. Once ready, the boiled and rolled patra is cut into slices and added to the meat. And, to thicken the gravy, some methi bhajiyas are crumbled and added to the dish too.

Every morning, Patrel Biryani is ready by 11 am. The biryani sits at the front of Firoz Farsan, and people from the neighbourhood come by and parcel it by the kilo. If you want a taste, the shop owners will offer it to you in a large bowl, complete with some potato salli on top. Although, it’s cooked even when it’s not Ramzan, most Mumbaikars flock to Bohri Mohalla only then. The tapela is wiped clean by 8 pm even though the fast breaks only at 7 pm.

What makes this biryani unique, is not just the fact that it’s rice-less. But the fact that this trading community has manage to craft a dish that celebrates the Gujarati Muslim heritage. Patra, a traditionally Gujarati snack that’s eaten by Maharashtrians alike (who call it aluwadi), finds its way into a meat stew.

You can pre-order and get the Patrel Biryani made with chicken or mutton too. Firoz Farsan Mart takes orders a day in advance.