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The Malabaris would answer in two words: heavenly and different. After all, the state of Kerala boasts of not one but two biryanis: the Thalassery and Kozikhode biryanis named after two separate districts in Kerala. Like other aspects of Malabari cooking, both biryanis are a delicious mix of Arab and Malayalee influences, giving Malabar biryani the unique status it has achieved today.

Redolent with ghee, cooked in the dum tradition and featuring the distinctive local short-grained rice Kaima, both Malabar biryanis varieties basically feature the same ingredients but differ in their cooking style. The Thalassery method for Malabar biryani has the meat and rice cooked separately, the rice light fried and then slow cooked under pressure (dum).

Just about 75 kilometers away, the denizens of Kozhikode prefer the style non-fried for their version of Malabar biryani. Besides, the biryani's flavour comes mainly from the fried onions.  

According to noted chef and Malabar food ambassador Abida Rasheed, the Kaima rice is the very essence of both the Malabari biryanis. "This rice is unique and apart from Malabar and possibly, Bengal, you won't find it elsewhere. What's more, the Malabar biryani is a perfect fit with everything ranging from mutton to beef to prawns and seer fish. The flavours are subtle and not very spicy for either," she says. "The cooking of the Malabar biryani is slowly catching on, thanks to food tourism, and people are increasingly beginning to wake up to the myriad flavours of this wonderful preparation." 

Unlike the Thalassery biryani, the Kozhikode version is served with a hot and sweet date pickle and a raita with tomatoes, coriander and green chillies and Kerala style papaddams. 

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Hotel Rahmath in Kozhikode that serves up a mean Kozhikode biryani since 1961 is famous for its piping hot preparations that are almost sold out as soon as they are made. Started by Kunchammed Thaivalappil, it is now being looked after by his son Muhammed Suhail. "The soul of this biryani lies not just in its fresh ingredients but its sheer link with the local culture. Please note the Malabari biryani is not like the biryanis up North, but boasts a character of its own. From mutton to prawn, beef and chicken, the biryanis are a departure from what most biryani connoisseurs are used to," he says. Sold at Rs 220 per plate (Malabar mutton biryani), Rs 230 (Malabar prawn biryani), Rs 140 (Malabar chicken biryani) and Rs 100 (Malabar beef biryani), the price belies the subtle flavours that slowly unravel like a magician's trick.

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