Friday, August 26, 2022

Anni Dreams of Biryani by Namita Moolani Mehra, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat

Anni Dreams of Biryani written by Namita Moolani Mehra,
illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat
Two Lions/Amazon, 2022, 40 pages

Anni lives in Little India with her mother and grandmother and every Friday, it is their once a week special treat to have biryani for dinner at the Biryani Cafe. This is the best biryani in Little India, made by an elderly chef named Mr. Arif whom everyone calls Uncle with an even older secret to his recipe. And it is Anni's absolute favorite thing to eat. If only she could make biryani that good, but she would need to find out the secret ingredient that sets it apart.
Sure, Anni can already cook all kinds of delicious curries, koftas, roti, and raita, but not biryani that taste like Uncle's. Then, one day, Anni gets an idea. Every week, Anni asks Uncle about one ingredient in his biryani and writes down his answer, until...

one Friday, instead of answering Anni's question, Uncle tells her to stop talking and try making her own biryani. And that is just what Anni does, but even though her biryani is good, it just isn't as good as Uncle's. But when Uncle looked at the recipe Anni had written down from all his answers, he stomps off in a huff, back into the cafe. And that is the end of Friday night biryani for Anni and her family. Or is it? A few weeks later, Anni comes up with a new plan, only to discover the cafe has closed and Uncle is gone. Could this really be the end of the best biryani ever? Will Anni never learn the secret ingredient in Uncle's biryani?

Anni Dreams of Biryani is such a fun book about a young girl who loves to cook, which is apparently not as uncommon as you might think. Anni is sweet, spunky, and really persistent. Her plan, after all, would require weeks of questions and answers, and she even manages  to pick up some useful cooking tips from Uncle, besides the list of ingredients. 

I loved the story of how Anni persevered trying to figure out the perfect biryani recipe, but I found the ending a bit abrupt and I didn't think it was clear why Uncle closed the cafe and left. It isn't as if Anni were competition for him - she is still just a school girl. 

The colorful digitally created illustrations depict a lively Little India neighborhood, with people busily going about their business. And the food images really capture the aroma of the different spices and other ingredients in the Biryani Cafe. They made me hungry for Indian food just looking at them. 

Back matter includes information about Biryani and how to make it special. There is a link to a quicker, easier version of Chicken Biryani that kids and their parents can try at

Now, I'm dreaming of biryani, too.

Meet the Author:
Namita Moolani Mehra is a children’s book author, cookbook author, and a food and parenting writer. She wrote the children’s cookbooks The Magic Spicebox and Superfoods for Superheroes. Anni Dreams of Biryani is her first picture book. Namita also runs a social-impact business called Indian Spicebox that helps fund hot meals for underprivileged children in India. Namita was born in a remote village in Nigeria, grew up in the UK and India, studied in Chicago, and worked in New York for over a decade. She currently lives in Singapore with her husband and two children. Learn more at, and follow her on Twitter @namstwit.

Instagram: @indianspicebox

Meet the Illustrator:

Chaaya Prabhat is an illustrator based in Chennai, India. She holds an MA in graphic design from Savannah College of Art and Design. She has illustrated several picture books, including Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers, written by Rajani LaRocca. In addition to her books, Chaaya has created illustrations for numerous clients, such as Google, Facebook, Snapchat, the Obama Foundation, the Times of India, and more. Learn more at, and follow her on Instagram @chaaya23.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like such a sweet story, Alex, and the illustrations are wonderful too! Anni sounds like a clever protagonist, and I am always a fan of books centered around food. But it's a shame the ending was a bit abrupt and confusing. Thanks so much for the thoughtful review!


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