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Restaurant Review: Ministry Of Crab’s New Crab Biryani Is Worth A Shot

Renowned Sri Lankan chef Dharshan Munidasa breaks the mould and introduces crab biryani at the Mumbai outpost of his restaurant.

Anannya Chatterjee

Attention biryani lovers! There’s a new biryani in town, and there's a slight chance that purists might not approve. But renowned Sri Lankan chef Dharshan Munidasa has taken a leap of faith and introduced a crab biryani at the Ministry Of Crab, Mumbai. But hang on, crab in biryani? But here’s the thing, if it’s chef Munidasa’s creation, you don’t really want to give it a miss.

So how different is it compared to a regular mutton or chicken biryani? A lot, actually. The dish features the de-shelled mud crab and rice cooked together in an aromatic blend of traditional Sri Lankan spices. It’s served in the same clay pot it is cooked dum-style, and paired with condiments such as fresh mint sambol, a classic Malay pickle, and a crab bisque. Oh, it also comes with two sets of eggs, one fried and one boiled.

The dish looked good, and to my surprise, tasted even better. It has a distinct earthy flavour to it, that goes perfectly with the traditional Sri Lankan biryani accompaniments. The sambol adds freshness with the mint, nuttiness with the coconut, spice from green chilies and zing from freshly squeezed lime. Taking us through the process of mint sambol, chef Jerry Thomas, culinary head at MOC says, “The sambol is freshly grated coconut ground by hand on a traditional ‘miris gala’ (pounding stone) with fresh green chillies and a whole lot of mint leaves for the freshness, finished with a squeeze of lime.”

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Interestingly, the classic Malay pickle is a family recipe of one of their staff members at the flagship in Colombo. Usually made by Malay immigrants, the pickle has the perfect balance of sweet, sour and spice. “It’s made with dates, whole shallots, chilli paste, fresh green chillies and vinegar. It’s left to settle and ferment for at least a week before use. It gets better with time,” chef Thomas adds. The third condiment which is a concentrated crab soup with a fine velvety smooth texture adds to the crustacean flavours. “The bisque is made by cooking a crab (shell on) in a stick to extract all the crustacean flavours with the addition of Sri Lankan spices and aromatics (curry leaves and pandan leaves) thickened with fresh coconut milk,” adds Thomas.

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Curious about the unconventional biryani, we asked Munidasa of its origins. Turns out, he created this dish during the opening up of Sri Lanka after the first Covid-19 lockdown. He says, “At the time people were still afraid to dine-in at restaurants, so I was looking at a delivery-friendly dish that would appeal to Sri Lankans, but also something that had not been seen in the market before. Biryani is a dish that has a long history in Sri Lanka, and most of South Asia, but no one had made it with mud crab in the way we do until now.”

To balance the flavours with the sweetness of crab, Munidasa studied the philosophies of traditional biryani making. He explains, “I did multiple trials of the crab biryani, with different types of rice and different combinations of spices and aromatics, as well as varying the cooking time to make sure that we perfected the recipe, so that the flavour of the mud crab really shines through. Cooking crab biryani in a clay pot, in which it is also served, enhances the flavours of the dish.”

Elaborating on the method, he further adds, “This dish is slow cooked in a clay pot (the same one we use to serve the dish to our guests), which intensifies the aroma and flavour. A banana leaf is placed at the base of the pot to ensure that the rice does not get burned.”

So, will the crab biryani make it to my absolute fave list? Perhaps, no, the traditionalist in me does not like to experiment with biryani too much but is it worth trying once? That’s a definite yes, especially for the sake of the flavours from the crustacean that blend so well with the rice.

Where: 442, 14th Rd, Khar, Khar West, Mumbai

When: 12pm-3pm; 7pm-11pm

How much: Small (serves 2-3 people) priced at Rs 3,750 + taxes; Large (serves 5-6 people) priced at Rs 8,650 + taxes

Photo: Ministry of Crab
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