Sunday, September 14, 2008

The 'chosen one' no more

Before the biryani was popularized by a multitude of Chettinad and wannabe-Chettinad restaurants, there were only a few select places that passed the test for true lovers of the dish. There is an apocryphal tale about how a visitor to Madras from the southern districts would be judged when he got back home after his visit: "So, did you eat biryani in Chennai?" was the question that would determine the 'gourmand-ness' of the visitor. If he hadn't eaten it at all, he would be forgiven, but eating it at a place other than the Buhari Hotel indicated flawed judgement.

And then came this hotel, which offered stiff competition to Buhari; 'Bilal' in Arabic means the 'chosen one' and for a while, it probably caused confusion in the southern districts as they tried to figure out how to reconcile this with the biryani at Buhari. It must have been a cushy task, to compare the biryanis of the competitors - I can imagine repeated samplings before the verdict was delivered: "There is no comparision - the biryani served by Buhari and Bilal are far superior to anything found elsewhere!".

Today, Bilal Hotel is no more. New Bilal, a feeble attempt at re-branding, takes shelter under a broader name of New Bilal Hotel and Bakery. Looking neither like a Hotel nor a Bakery, it runs its business from a small portion of the large building that was Bilal Hotel - the other parts have run to seed. A great fall indeed, for the 'chosen one'!

4 comments:

moochhi said...

is is truly a sad fall. while i never thought that either of these places made really good biryani, it was what was available in those days. i suppose changing the name is a legal trick - either they had a union they wanted to bust or they just sold the stuff to a new name and carried on as before. thankfully, biryani has many other makers and not half-bad either. i guess we need to thank B&B for carrying the torch for so long. pity they have tired while the race is still being run...

Shantaram said...

>> Moochhi>> I remember Bilal's as the first biryani I ever tasted, so I can't be objective about it! Buhari still continues, as 'Aaram Buhari' now. What do you say we go there for biryani one of these days?

frissko said...

Interesting...I work right opposite Bilal (at Wellington plaza) and always wondered why only a small part of a building marked Bilal hotel (and i instantly like buildings whose names are marked such) was currently actually Bilal hotel...

Shantaram said...

>> Frissko>> Thanks for stopping by, and the comment... there are so many such buildings on Mount Road... family disputes stopping anything being done about the property :(