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Malaysians develop taste buds for Biryani as Pak rice gains popularity

Kuala Lumpur:From being served merely at weddings and special events until recently, Biryani has increasingly found its way into the ordinary restaurants across Malaysia due to the richness of taste and aroma it offers to the rice-loving Malays.

Yet another reason that has popularized the Biryani dish in Malaysia is a growing realization among the locals who see Basmati rice as containing less starch than regular white rice, making it a healthier option for them, says a feature report by Bernama on the popularity of Biryani dish in Malaysia.

Speaking to the news agency, Pakistan High Commissioner to Malaysia Masood Khalid says his country is aware of the potential of Pakistani Basmati rice and its high demand in Malaysia and to increase rice exports to Malaysia, Pakistan is looking at a joint venture with Padiberas Nasional Berhad (Bernas). “Our discussion with Bernas is being done in stages. To date, Bernas has sent two groups of representatives to Pakistan to sign agreements with Pakistani exporters, following the floods in Thailand and Vietnam that affected rice imports to Malaysia,” he said, adding “we are soon expecting to see Bernas in Pakistan again … I hope the joint venture will benefit both parties”.

Masood Khalid said the Pakistani government was also planning visits from and consistent contacts with Malaysia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries, apart from asking Rice Exporters Association Pakistan (REAP) to consider exporting rice to Malaysia. “Pakistan’s domestic use of rice is about 2.5 million tonnes, so there is actually enough excess for exporting to Malaysia.

“However, the last word is still with the Malaysian government,” Masood stated, adding that rice exports from Pakistan to Malaysia last year increased by 20.3 percent or 148,000 tonnes.

Currently, rice is the third biggest crop in Pakistan, after wheat and cotton. According to the Rice Exporters Association Pakistan (REAP), Pakistan cultivates various types of rice, including Super Basmati, Basmati PK-385, Irri-6, Irri-9 and KS-282. However, Pakistan is better known for its aromatic types of Basmati, namely, Super Basmati and Basmati PK-385.

According to the Pakistan High Commissioner Masood Khalid, the type of Basmati used is the most important element in the preparation of a Biryani dish. “I personally believe that the main thing in the preparation of a delicious Biryani dish is quality rice, followed by a combination of spices that makes for a unique taste. Besides that, the quality of meat used and a classic recipe will contribute to the tastiness of the dish,” said Masood, who is very fond of Biryani himself.

“Spices play an important role in making a Biryani. You can smell the aroma of a tasty Biryani from far away,” he added.

The right type of rice is essential for preparing the different types of Biryani. Chef Mustafa Hamud Badar, 37, who is the head chef of the Al-Rawsha Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, attests to this. The restaurant specializes in the traditional dishes of Yemen and Lebanon.

According to Mustafa, Yemenites use different types of rice for different dishes such as Mandy, Kebsa or Madghut. “For Mandy, we use the Triple A (Grade 3) type of rice. For Kebsa or Madghut, the same rice is used but of a different grade, Grade 2,” Mustafa told Bernama with the help of the translator Sharifah Zainab Syed Ahmed, who is also the managing director of the restaurant.

Mustafa asserted that different types of rice require different cooking methods, which help maintain the quality and taste of the Biryani. “To prepare Mandy rice, for example, we need to use better quality rice (Grade 3) because it will be cooked over a period of four hours.

“The Mandy rice will be cooked for that period in a charcoal-filled oven that is six to seven feet deep. This will prevent the rice grains from sticking to one another. To heighten the aroma and taste, coarse and fine salt are added to a concrete and steel ring situated around the oven,” added Mustafa, who has 11 yeas of cooking experience.

The Kebsa and Madghut dishes, however, are not as complicated to prepare, and their rice takes only an hour to cook.

Mustafa pointed out that rice is such an integral element in a Biryani dish that regular customers to Al-Rawsha – be they locals or Arabs – can identify a Mandy dish by its rice, as soon as it is served.

“Before cooking, the Basmati rice has to be soaked for at least half an hour before it is washed.

“This intricate process determines the tastiness of a Biryani rice dish,” remarked Mustafa, who also revealed his amazement at how well received Arab food is in Malaysia.

Some distinguished diners have become regulars at the restaurant since it opened in the city centre two years ago. These include local celebrities, politicians, dignitaries and members of the royalty.

Biryani rice is believed to have originated from Iran. While Iranian merchants and travelers indirectly introduced the Biryani to several continents during their travels, its popularity reached its peak in India.

According to the Malay Chef at Prince Hotel & Residences Kuala Lumpur, Shahrom Saari, the difference in Biryani dishes across the continents lies in the concoction of herbs and spices that are unique to a region.

“For example, in Arab countries and Pakistan, the concoction of spices sold under the brand names Shaan, Mehran and National are used. The concoction is placed in a spice bag and boiled with the rice to enhance the flavour. Meanwhile, in India, the flavours are attained by frying the grama Masala (blend of ground spices) first,” explained Shahrom.

In Malaysia, lemongrass and pandan (screwpine) leaves are easily attainable, and thus locals prefer to use them in preparing Biryani dishes.

“The usage of cooking oils also differs. Cooks in Arab countries prefer to use olive oil, while those in the Indian sub-continent are partial to ghee,” he added.

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