In Tamil Nadu, political rallies are fuelled by biryani. Although sales are slower this year, the cadre’s favourite cooks are gearing up for assembly elections
“I am looking forward to the victory feast given by candidates who win the elections, and during such occasions I usually go by ela kanakku, where I charge ₹200 per head and serve the feast on banyan leaf,” says 53-year-old Basha bhai, who runs a biryani catering service based out of Mamallapuram. In Tamil Nadu, election season sees a dramatic rise in biryani sales as political parties place bulk orders for packets to distribute to the cadre, or even hire a master to prepare it at their meeting location.
Running a biryani catering service near Mamallapuram for 18 years, 53-year-old Basha bhai is popular with political parties looking to arrange an economical feast. He is taken to the venue three hours before a meeting ends, which gives him and his team time to cook a fragrant Tamil Nadu style biryani. This not only provides audiences with a piping, hot meal after the meeting, but also ensures a rise in attendance as the scent of the biryani curls its way through the venue.
“For wedding feasts, I use equal portions of meat and rice, but when it comes to a political party where there is a limitless crowd, I add slightly more rice just so that I can serve a dozen more,” he says. “There is never a compromise in quality. I always insist on using best quality basmati and meat.” To this end, “I would rather compromise and take lesser wages for myself and staff than make a poor quality biryani, be it election meeting or campaign or wedding.” Basha insists on taking raw materials to the venue instead of letting his client supply them, he states, adding that he always insists on being at the venue with raw materials, and will not let the party cadre supply them.
The wages of biryani master, who is accompanied by an assistant, is based on the number of kilograms of rice used and the kind of biryani — ₹100, ₹120 and ₹150 per plate, for vegetable, chicken and mutton respectively. This means that if he prepares 25 kilograms each chicken and rice, then he gets paid ₹3,000. The serving includes one piece of meat, one egg and a generous portion of rice. Usually one kilogram of biryani with the meat is sufficient to fill six to eight boxes.
“There are two types of biryani that I prepare: dum and vadi biryani. For party cadres, I normally stick to vadi biryani, where we cook the rice and meat with masala and layer it before mixing and serving.” He adds, “This tastes good even if eaten later as the cadres prefer to take the packets and eat it leisurely. I prefer this method as I want every one to taste the best biryani.”
When the order is too big for him to handle, he invites biryani masters from neighbouring districts to join him in the task. “To prepare for 1,000 people, we use multiple cauldrons and allot one master for two cauldrons. Normally, we cook 25-30 kilograms of rice and meat in each batch,” he says.
This year, the city’s biryani kitchens are not as busy. “Even during lockdown, we had good sales as we could open the shop during stipulated hours, but it dipped after the assembly election dates were announced. None of the parties have placed bulk orders so far, and even the public seem to be careful about spending these days,” says Anees Ahamed, managing partner for all the 14 branches of Star Biryani outlets in Chennai, adding that in previous elections, there have even been pre-orders ranging between 500 and 2,000 packets a day.
It is a similar story at the smaller stalls. Mohamad Nihal, who has a biryani stall on the ECR near Mamallapuram says, “During the previous elections, we supplied biryani parcels of 600 to 1000 per day to all parties. This is the worst in the 20 years that we have been in business. There have been no orders mainly due to cash crunch and the pandemic situation,” he says.
“Restricted cash flow is a major reason for dull sales,” says Muneer Ahamed, managing director, Star Biryani, Ambur, adds that the Election Commission of India has been “tracking biryani movement” and seeking details on who placed the order and how the payment was made. “Strict vigilance has made the parties avoid spending on biryani as it could be considered election expenditure,” he says.
Basha says he supplied about 3,000 packets of biryani during the last assembly elections, but this year he is down to between 50 and 100 packets a day. “Probably it is the pandemic that has made parties avoid huge crowds or mass feeding,” he says. However, Basha is hopeful that there will be better sales on polling day — April 6 — as food will be served to cadres and polling booth managers.
He adds, “Irrespective of which candidate people support, they all agree on biryani for lunch on election day.”