Café Mariam: The Freedom Briyani
By KF Seetoh - Friday, Sep 13, 2019
The duo set of dum and mandhi briyani with mutton and chicken
He has a certain attitude, a sense of anger in him, and it’s all about his food culture. It’s the kind of food people I like to engage, learn and understand. He’s worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and gigged in cruise ship kitchens and even moulded sushi and ramen in his 20 year career in the culinary industry. But here, in this crammed little food shop with limited seating, he feels, is where he belong, hawking his family’s legacy briyani recipes. The place may not even look anything resembling a well thought of western or Japanese kitchen but he lets his food do the talking.
Hassan hides his special smoking technique he uses on the rice
There’s only 3 types of nasi briyani in his menu , “there’s no menu, just what you see stuck on the door” and Hassan bin Abdul Majeed, all of 37 years young, goes on about just how different it is (like any good salesman does). There’s Chicken Dum Briyani ($6.50), Mutton Briyani ($7.50) and the Arab style Mandhi briyani (price depends on size). I tried a platter of duo dum Chicken and Mutton Mandhi Briyani, and it was indeed..different, and alluring. I tore into the Mandhi briyani first, and it had a delightful smokiness, as if it was done over wood fire in some clay tagine pot or a Josper oven, but no. He showed how and I was wowed with his “please don’t tell anyone about this secret” technique, and so, I won’t. It was a very bold yet humble flavour, done simply with mutton stock and ghee (clarified butter) with those long, fluffy basmati grains. His mutton chunks, are all simmered till soft in a stew pot and upon order, he torches the soft meat for roastiness and retain the juiciness inside. Ditto for the spiced braised chicken. The mutton’s gaminess is gentle as the meat is braised and the aromatics and herbs are light. The fluffy long grained basmati, does not overwhelm and the gentle boldness of the ghee and mutton stock breathes through each bite. That’s what he meant by “different”. The wistful hints of saffron he uses in his dum briyani is thoughtful but it hardly comes through as you need a bit more than you think, to let it shine. And saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. But Hassan’s recipe isn’t crying out for more of it. Chunks of soft braised mutton is buried in the mount of briyani and the set comes with yoghurt, dhal curry and an explosive green chilli chutney. Blend it in at you own peril.
Each mutton piece is torched before serving
I asked why the shift to this stall from this stellar background (he’s operated it for 18 months now), and his reply was one of the most soulful I’ve heard in a long while , “I want people to eat my freedom and independence” as he wields his family’s culinary legacy and he is his own boss. I pressed on with what he learnt in his stint here and “humility” was the reply. He once saw a lady who sat so patiently as the food was served. She waited for her husband to take a 2-stick cigarette break before they gleefully tore into the meal. “It may be a simple observation, but I see the depth of the humbleness and contentment in that act. I need to learn more from that.” We all do, brother.
The chicken comes torched and juicy inside
116 Changi Road, 01-03
Closes by 2pm on Saturday and Sunday
(prayer break 12pm-2pm on Friday)