What’s Eating Me: Chicken Curry and Biryani at Bismillah Grocery and Kitchen

In his Netflix series Master of None, Aziz Ansari rebuffs as a racial epithet the term “curry person,” even as it’s adorably spoken in broken English by his Italian paramour. The problem with the slur, of course, is its equating of a race of people, the richness of its history and value to humanity as a whole, with something you eat on date nights. It’s frankly cruel, reductionist and patronizing to a massive and ethnically diverse culture. With 1.75 billion people speaking several hundred languages, the Indian Subcontinent has as much right to claim full continent status as Europe, home of the colonizing map-makers. Curry itself is a wonderfully diverse foodstuff, not admitting of any one single color, texture or flavor profile.

Take, for example, the chicken curry at Bismillah, a Pakistani/Nepali/Indian grocery that just opened in the former Green Olive on Congress Street and serves homey South Asian dishes over-the-counter. By prejudice, you would not recognize the stuff as curry if all you knew were the thick, nutty, buttery gravies made by Indian folks in British kitchens. Those are colonial innovations and not reflective of the full spectrum of home-style curries.

At Bismillah, the chicken curry is more a soup than a sauce, served piping hot with chunks of bone-in, dark meat chicken. Marrow-dense and scorching with peppery heat, the flavor profile is more like a well-stewed gumbo (as much as I hate reaching for that analog) than a thick restaurant curry. You’ll be surprised to reach for a spoon. Your nostrils will flare from sparks of whole-clove and aromatics. Your brow will sweat and your tongue will tingle. Most important, you’ll never be so racist about curries again. — Christiaan Mader

Pro Tip: Almost everything at Bismillah is spicy. But the biryani (pictured above) is a mild spice-trainer. Work your way up. Spice is about pleasure, not pain.

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