For years now in Montréal, I’ve only been able to find good biryani at friend’s homes. Some would say that’s because proper biryani must be home-made, preferably with love, affection and patience—and eaten immediately.
It’s true that the subtly-oiled grains of basmati do not age gently. Leave them out a few hours and flaky becomes crunchy, an altogether unpleasant quality for most grains of rice. Meanwhile, that ever-essential spice mix harshens up and clove buds and peppercorns emerge from the nest parched.
But here’s the real reason I was relegated to domestic consumption: the biryani cook many experts (and expats) regard as Montréal’s best has never helmed a restaurant. He delivered only on demand, mostly to those in the know, within a small radius downtown. I don’t live downtown. I’m not generally in the know. So I had to rely on one friend–who grew up on the stuff in Pakistan–to make frequent and generous contributions to dinner parties. These mysterious phoned-in biryanis, which arrived quickly and opaquely from the back of a small economy car, became the stuff of legend in our circle of friends.
But now this legendary biryani recipe has a public dispensary: Étudiant Savoureux Biryani/Student Tasty Biryani (ESB/STB, for “short”).
An uplifting banner – “STB Dedicate to (Peace & Love)” – flies under Halal “Poulet Bronzé” on eternally-evolving Lincoln Ave., a simple counter set inside with six small eat-in tables. You can, of course, take it away as well. Though only two tables were occupied during our visit, a steady stream of lone men (presumably the targeted étudiants on ETB‘s signage) filed out with styrafoam containers.
Here’s the rub: $6 lands you a (generous) portion of chicken biryani. $8 allows you to add on a raita and a Coke. The raita alone is worth the twoonie and then some. Not only does it complete the dish (especially for those with sensitivities to spice), it’s so addictive as to be nearly drinkable on its own. I would suggest they start bottling it.
The biryani itself was supremely harmonious in spicing and very light on oil—a magic blend of chili, tumeric, clove, black pepper, garam masala and who knows what else. The chicken was perfectly tender, and while the potent marinade means that two pieces go a long way, you can order a third for 99 cents. Yes, 99 cents.
I literally devoured my plate, much to the amusement of my friend (who promised that on other trips, he’d had even fresher batches of rice) as well as the two other regular diners.
I won’t deny that there are a few exceptional Pakistani restaurants in town, but there are also several exceptional Pakistani dishes to be had.
But when it comes to biryani made in a resto, this might just be your best best in town.
Address: 1620 Lincoln Ave.