Mohammed Hazaifa doesn’t think you can find Pakistani food like this anywhere else in Sydney. He’s the manager of Auburn’s cavernous family restaurant Student Biryani, which swung open the doors to a crowd of stunned locals nearly three years ago.
But he might have a point — Student Biryani is actually one of Pakistan’s most popular restaurant chains. "If you're a Pakistani walking past our restaurant, you might go through a bit of shock,” says Hazaifa.
If you're not familiar with Karachi’s going out culture, Student Biryani's background might go unappreciated. Roots stretch back to 1969 when vendor Haji Mohammed Ali started dishing out biryani from his tiny market stall. Realising he was catering to hoards of university students, he began selling under the name Student Biryani.
With the lunch money of satisfied repeat customers, he opened his first permanent location in downtown Karachi — now a city landmark.
Student Biryani currently operates 34 stores, both in Pakistan and other countries with sizeable Pakistani diaspora, including UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Canada.
The staple main features separately cooked spiced meat (often still on the bone), served on a bed of fragrant rice. Add potatoes, more spices and veggies (“and a bit of love,” urges Hazaifa) and you have a moreish meal that's been consumed in western and southern Asia for centuries.
At Student Biryani, chicken and goat are the common biryani meats — but there's also beef, vegetarian or fish. The enticing spice combination is a mix of cardamom, ginger, garlic, a little turmeric, and a few others that Hazaifa won't reveal. Often, cinnamon and cloves can be tasted, too.
In such a large space and with ample furniture, sharing is encouraged here: there’s the biryani bucket with drinks and sides (whether you want them or not), which feeds 10 people at $9 a head. There's also the $21 chargha (deep-fried whole chicken), a solid meal for two.
Also keep nihari in mind, a traditional slow-cooked lamb or beef stew.
Traditional vegetarian options include daal, kardhi pakora (spiced chickpea patties) and of course, the spicy vegetable biryani.
The menu extends to weekend breakfasts with halwa puri special — puri (fried flatbread), channa tarkari (chickpea curry), suji halwa (a sweet semolina) and aloo tarkari (potato curry).
Or, you could go for something more contemporary: fried chicken features heavily on the menu in the form of crisp chicken burgers and wings.
Dessert calls for kheer and zarda (both sweet rice desserts), along with Pakistani ice cream. Wash it down with a bottle of Pakola, a creamy soft drink imported from Pakistan.
While it's affordable and comes out quickly, it’s not biryani without traditional cooking techniques. "It’s kind of fast food — it’s delicious and we don’t want our customers to wait," he says. "We are constantly cooking, but we don't store things frozen or use the microwave to cook."
For Pakistani customers, Student Biryani's playful logo of a chef holding a steaming bowl signifies affordable comfort food and a night out with friends and family. But for many, it’s a sight to see the business thriving outside Pakistan.
"When Pakistanis visit Sydney, they go the to Opera House. Then they come and visit us,” says Hazaifa.
Find out the secret behind Student Biryani's 50-year-old recipe:
Mon - Fri 11am–11pm weekdays; Sat-Sun 9am–11pm
42 Auburn Rd, Auburn NSW
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