Ghee, there's no oil
By Teo Pau Lin, 08 May 2005
INDULGING in nasi briyani and roti prata needn't be a guilt-laden affair.
IN GOOD HANDS: The masala for the briyani is made with 29 herbs and spices, and the rice has 15 ingredients
At Shahiran restaurant, these popular Indian dishes are stripped of ghee and cooking oil, so eating here won't force you into dietary penance afterwards.
Owner Shahiran Perumal, 44, opened the air-conditioned Indian-Muslim joint last July to specialise in dum briyani - a north-western Indian dish where basmati rice and meat are slow-cooked together in a sealed pot.
It is unlike regular nasi briyani, where rice and meat are cooked separately, then served together on a plate.
To prepare dum briyani, the meat is first cooked with masala - a thick, spicy gravy - in a giant pot. Then, half-cooked basmati rice is poured over the meat mixture. A second pot, filled with boiling water, is placed on top of the first pot.
The contents are cooked by their own steam, and pressure from above ensures even steaming.
Mr Shahiran says this method fires up the meat to make it extra tender, and burst with flavours from the masala.
A closer look at the family recipe, passed down from his Indian great-grandfather, reveals a staggering number of ingredients.
The masala is made with 29 herbs and spices, while the rice is cooked with 15 ingredients, including expensive saffron from Spain.
But, as Mr Shahiran set out to create a healthy restaurant, he took out most of the fat content.
Very little oil is used in the masala, and, instead of cooking the rice with ghee, milk or yogurt, he uses ground almonds and pistachios to add flavour and richness.
At $5 a plate with chicken or mutton (each set comes with papadum, dalcha and acar), the rice grains are delicate and thankfully free of grease.
The mutton is a little dry, but the chicken is wondrously tender and plump in flavour.
Convincing customers that healthy briyani can still be tasty took some effort, says Mr Shahiran.
'At first, not many people want to try. But once they do, several come back with their families,' he says.
The other draw of the restaurant is the roti prata, and you see why when a plate (two pieces cost $1.40) arrives.
There is hardly any glistening grease on the prata or the plate.
Unlike many prata shops that make them either crispy, or in lower grade outlets, rubbery, the texture here is soft and fluffy on the inside, with a thin crispy layer on the outside. Break it up with a fork and it will tear easily.
There are other gems in the side-order counter.
Try the Bollywood fried chicken, $2 (so called because the chef has the strong, aquiline nose of Indian screen legend Shah Rukh Khan) and the mutton stew, $3 (sweet on the first bite, but followed by a fiery spiciness that burns off your tongue).
Best of all, this eatery is open 24 hours a day.
789 Bukit Timah Road (at the junction with Sixth Avenue)
Opens: 24 hours a day