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Cricket and biryani go together like baseball and hot dogs

Chicken biryani at the Royale Restaurant & Bar in Carle Place, New York.
Marco Postigo Storel for NPR
Chicken biryani at the Royale Restaurant & Bar in Carle Place, New York.

The most anticipated game of the Cricket World Cup may be the Pakistan-India game on Sunday. The nations are bitter rivals, and their cricket teams rarely meet. There is one thing their fans do agree on, though: Biryani is the best thing to eat at a cricket match. The rice dish is a favorite all over the Indian subcontinent. Each culture has its own way of preparing biryani, but the desi restaurants in the area around the World Cup stadium in East Meadow, N.Y., are used to serving up multiple styles.

Each of the three biryani shops closest to the stadium in Eisenhower Park has halal meat, restricted beef options and a range of vegetarian dishes. But the most popular item on all three restaurant menus is the biryani.

Fans arrive for the Sri Lanka versus South Africa Cricket World Cup match at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium at Eisenhower Park, N.Y., on  June 3.
Marco Postigo Storel for NPR /
Fans arrive for the Sri Lanka versus South Africa Cricket World Cup match at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium at Eisenhower Park, N.Y., on June 3.

Biryani became associated with cricket partly because of the sport's format. The oldest version of the game lasts five days. Fans eat multiple meals from early morning until evening. The breaks in the play are even named after mealtimes. The World Cup format is much shorter, about as long as a baseball game. But in any format of cricket, there's a long pause before each play. It's the perfect amount of time to scoop meat, rice, yogurt and other condiments onto a spoon.

There are over 35 kinds of biryanis across the Indian subcontinent, with each city offering varying flavors. Like cricket, the Indo-Pak rivalry plays out over biryani as well. Vegetarian biryani is more popular in India, along with chicken and mutton — but not beef, which most Hindus avoid. In Pakistan, meat biryani is more common — but never pork, which is forbidden in Islam.

Sahar's Kitchen and Chai — Karachi style

Mohammed Rehman, owner of Sahar's Kitchen & Chai, and the restaurant's chicken biryani, in East Meadow, N.Y., on June 4.
Marco Postigo Storel for NPR /
Mohammed Rehman, owner of Sahar's Kitchen & Chai, and the restaurant's chicken biryani, in East Meadow, N.Y., on June 4.

In East Meadow, the desi restaurants have both Hindu and Muslim customers. At Sahar's Kitchen and Chai, Mohammed Rehman, who comes from a Bangladeshi family, offers a Karachi-style biryani with the raita, a yogurt sauce, on the side — trademark Pakistani flavors!

Rehman loves watching cricket with a plate of biryani. "Biryani is a quick eat and fills you up," he says, adding descriptions of various subcontinental biryanis. “The Pakistani is more dried, with more sauce on top. The Indian has more spices. And Bangladesh is more curried.”

The Royale — biryani diversity

Amrinder Singh, owner of the Royale Restaurant & Bar in Carle Place, N.Y., on June 4.
Marco Postigo Storel for NPR /
Amrinder Singh, owner of the Royale Restaurant & Bar in Carle Place, N.Y., on June 4.

The Royale Restaurant & Bar serves alcohol and meat dishes, but that hasn't stopped devout Muslims and religiously vegetarian Hindus from eating there. For Royale owner Amrinder Singh, this is a reflection of Indian diversity. "We are very respectful towards any religion, any ethnicity," Singh says, adding that while his restaurant cooks all its food in the same place, it is happy to modify recipes according to diners' needs.

Subcontinental diversity is reflected in the Royale’s menu, which features prawn biryani and cheese biryani as well. This is the go-to place for the authentic Indian biryani from Hyderabad.

Spice and Curry — a longtime favorite for all kinds of people

Naveed Haroon, co-owner of Spice & Curry Kabab & Grill, and the restaurant's chicken biryani, in East Meadow on June 3.
Marco Postigo Storel for NPR /
Naveed Haroon, co-owner of Spice & Curry Kabab & Grill, and the restaurant's chicken biryani, in East Meadow on June 3.

The East Meadow biryani trail ends at Spice & Curry Kabab & Grill, the oldest desi restaurant in the area. Despite describing itself as a Pakistani restaurant, Spice & Curry doesn't have beef biryani on its menu. "Beef biryani is not very common. We make it on special orders. We also customize vegetarian options, including the chana [chickpea] biryani” says owner Naveed Haroon.

Customers from both India and Pakistan attend biryani-loaded cricket screenings at both the Royale and Spice & Curry. While the Indo-Pak banter prevails, there's no trace of any hostility. "It's all politics. In Nassau County, there's a big population of Indians and Pakistanis. And they get along," Haroon says.

The Royale Restaurant & Bar on June 4.
Marco Postigo Storel for NPR /
The Royale Restaurant & Bar on June 4.

Royale owner Amrinder Singh echoes the same sentiment, citing the example of his former roommate from Pakistan. "He lives in Virginia. He comes to see me — I go to see him. The emotions are the same."

Both Singh and Haroon agree that the U.S. co-hosting the Cricket World Cup is going to significantly enhance the popularity of the sport in the U.S. and along with it introduce biryani to a wider audience. But are they prepared to cater to a large number of diverse customers? The answer can be found in Spice & Curry’s kitchen, where the chef shows you how the restaurant's biryani is cooked.

First up, oil goes into a daig, a large pot. Then they add a bag of dried onions and fresh tomato puree, followed by a number of spices, including red chili powder, turmeric powder and zeera coriander. Once the sauce is ready, in goes the basmati rice. Meat or vegetables are separately added to create different biryanis.

Cricket plays on the TV in the lobby of the Holiday Inn hotel that's connected to the Royale Restaurant & Bar, on June 4.
Marco Postigo Storel for NPR /
Cricket plays on the TV in the lobby of the Holiday Inn hotel that's connected to the Royale Restaurant & Bar, on June 4.

While the customers might have their preferred cricket team or biryani, they are bound by the love for both. "The food is going to unite the love. No matter what kind of rivalry they have on the field, when they'll be back, they'll enjoy the food," Singh says.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
[Copyright 2024 NPR]