Her friends and family call her the Biryani Queen. What else do you call a deft hand in the kitchen who can cook a dozen lip smacking biryanis? Azra Sidhan’s popular Tona’s—The Biryani Place, a venture she started six years ago, has left hundreds of Bengaluru’s biryani lovers wanting more.
Even before Tona’s started catering, Azra’s Biryanis were popular among her friends and family. “Cook us some biryani’ was a popular request,” Azra recounts. When her business-savvy daughter Shruti, who is now a film producer in the UK, suggested Azra start catering, it seemed like a natural progression from what she has been perfecting over 30 years. Tona is Shruti’s pet name. For Azra’s pet project which was suggested by her daughter, naming it Tona’s seemed apt.
It’s simple why in such a short span of time Tona’s has become every Bangalorean’s go-to place for biryanis. These biryanis are secret family recipes handed down for generations, a sleight of hand that sprinkles the right spices, at the ripe moment for the falvours to soak in and the aromas to waft about. Azra’s recipes are well guarded, one of the reasons why she sticks to home catering than turning it into a bigger enterprise. “I do get offers for collaborations to make it into a bigger business. I am happy the way it is. Well, there would definitely be more money but these recipes will get lost. I may also be expected to make compromises in the quality which I am not willing to,” she chimes.
The rich flavours of her pots set Azra’s biryanis apart. While she agrees that “vegetable biryanis” don’t really exist and are in fact a misnomer, she makes them anyways just so vegetarians don’t feel left out on a table that serves her biryanis. She uses similar masalas (minus the meat) as in other biryanis but takes extra measures to keep it authentic and even uses separate pots to cook them.
Of all her popular biryanis, Azra’s most popular creations are the mutton yakhni biryani, closely followed by mutton Mughlai. Not surprising, given the finesse involved in these recipes, steeped in tradition. In the Yakhni style, the biryani is cooked in mutton stock on slow fire for close to four hours with musin potlis of whole spices slowly releasing their flavours into the rice and meat combo. The dish is garnished with caramelised onions. It is a slow, labour-intensive process but the taste is all worth it, Azra says. Despite the demanding nature of these recipes, Azra presides over the cooking, making each dish with great care. She has helpers to prep the ingredients but Azra doesn’t let any of them get hold of the recipes.
Tona’s fish biryani (which Azra has begun to feel deserves a better name for two reasons--it is not the regular fish biryani and it’s a standout), on the other hand, is perhaps the one that is closest to her lineage—a Gujarati royal family that later moved to Mumbai. “It is actually Mia Pulao (loosely translated as fish biryani) I grew up eating as a child,” she says.
For those who love old favourites, there is the classic south Indian chicken biryani and dum biryani to choose from.
What perhaps adds to the charm is that Azra refuses to buckle into pressure to turn her venture into a commercially-run business. You can order in bulk, from as few as five to a maximum of 100 plates, knowing when you dig into your spoon into it, you’ll embark on a sensual journey that reminds of the flavours of home.