We are in India. “Bheja (brain) Fry” is a common slang used in parts of Mumbai and Andhra Pradesh, often to describe a situation (or a person) who is so irritating that it almost fries your brains.
In Hyderabad, brain fry isn’t just the resulting sensation from surrounding confusion and summer heat. The phrase is derived from a popular street food and in fact there hole-in-the-wall eateries and street vendors fry goat, sheep, or cow brain, and then smother it in spicy sauce and onions.
Thus, eaters scoop up the fiery gravy and rich, slightly spongy brain with a helping of bread, often opting for naan or tandoori roti. To make the gravy richer, almonds and pistachios are often added in the preparation.
Even though it is a popular dish in several households across the sub-continent, the credit of Bheja Fry goes to the Muslim inhabitants of medieval India. According to A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food by Food Historian K.T. Acharya, “Islam enjoins that no food be wasted, even left overs being saved and eaten”, which practically means that every part of the animal is worthy of consuming, be it the tender leg cut, or its brain.
Other regions are also home to versions of this dish, which goes by bheja fry or maghaz. The dish is quite popular also in Mumbai and it is known for an extra-spicy rendition, while parts of northern India add grated egg and coriander seeds to a medley of chili paste and spices.
Some cooks sell the brain deep-fried and dry-spiced, while others opt to serve it pan-fried and drowning in curry.
Celebrity Chef Akshay Nayyar, Co-Owner of Kopper Kadai, Delhi and Bangalore says, “Bheja Fry typically translates into pan-fried brain cooked with Indian spices. It is primarily a famous street food originating from Hyderabad where it is also eaten with Khameeri Roti or a pao. It is a star dish on the streets of Mumbai where a more spicy Konkani version is served. If you travel up north then a more earthy-style Tawa Maghaz recipe is available where they use more of coriander, chilli paste and garam masala, cooked with grated egg. I have also heard locals say that apart from being a delicious treat, it is good for your nervous system, eyes and brain function.”