Biriyani tales are inseparable from Eid for most Indians. Available in luxurious fine dining restaurants, Biriyani in India is often a festive and exotic delicacy. At the same time it is a regular street side affair as well. We have countless varieties of Biriyani in India with the twist of cultural overlap and local influences over the original styles. Biriyanis vary across regions in India because of different ingredients, local influence, cooking time and cooking methods. Various kinds of meat, fish and even shrimps are used. However, chicken Biriyani remains the most ordered dish in India. But every Biriyani has its own story and today I am going to share a few of them.
Biriyani Tales: The origin
A popular belief prevails that Biriyani originated in Persia and was brought to India by the Mughals. Birinj in Persian means rice and Birian means rice which is fried. However, the most popular belief is that Biriyani was introduced in Northern India by the Mughals, during the reign of Emperor Akbar, for nourishment of their soldiers. It was a simple one pot dish rich in protein. Later on it moved into the kitchens of the Nawabs with complex methods of cooking using exotic spices and ingredients. The notable Muslim centres slowly developed a liking for Biriyani and that is how the fame of Biriyani spread. The Southern India has different Biriyani Tales to share. Biriyani was introduced to the trade centres (port towns) in Southern India by the Arabs.
Biriyani Tales from the Nizam's Hyderabad
Hyderabad is called the Biriyani Capital of India and alone has 40-50 types of Biriyani. Biriyani Tales from Hyderabad are told from the Nizam’s ostentatious kitchen to the common man’s basic chullah. Biriyani is customary in Hyderabad. Hyderabadi Biriyani in a broader sense has an ambrosial image in the world. Well why not? Premium Basmati rice, generous use of ghee, cardamoms, meat, saffron, mint, onion barista and dried fruits, slow cooked on dough sealed earthen pot on charcoal flame make the Hyderabadi Biriyani stand out. Shadab and Paradise are popular joints in Hyderabad for a biriyani experience.
Biriyani Tales from Lucknow, the land of Nawabs
Biriyani tales of the nawabs are still heated topics among foodies. Lucknowi or Awadhi Biriyani is famous for the aroma of the spices used. Long grained Awra rice is used to cook Lucknowi Biriyani because this rice, unlike Basmati, doesn’t have its own flavour. So the aroma of kewra, rose water, nutmeg, saffron, star anise, cardamom and cinnamon, stand out. The rice and meat are cooked separately. Then they are layered in a deep button handi (vessel) with its lid sealed by dough. It is then slow cooked. This method is called ‘Dum pukt’ style. If you visit Lucknow do not miss Idris or Wahid Biriyani.
Biriyani Tales from my Hometown, Kolkata
There is an interesting Biriyani tale associated to Calcutta. Awadh’s last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, was exiled to Metiabruz, Calcutta, in 1856 after his kingdom was annexed by the East India Company. The Company granted him a pension with which he brought his chefs along with him. His love for Biriyani cannot be expressed in words. However due to lack of such financial affluence, there was shortage of meat and exotic spices. His chefs made an extension of the Awadhi Biriyani with the use of eggs and potatoes. Yellowish rice, yogurt based juicy meat, soft succulent boiled egg and perfectly golden fried potato; with a tinge of sweetness and sparingly used spices, make the Calcutta Biriyani distinguished. When in Kolkata, try out Kolkata Biriyani at Chitpur’s historical Royal India Restaurant(established in 1905) or other joints like Shiraj and Arselan.
Biriyani Tales from Malabar Coast
Thalassery Biriyani is sweet and spicy Biriyani of the Malabar region of Kerala and is unique in its own way. Unlike North Indian Biriyani, long grained rice is not used for these types of Biriyani. Instead short grained Khyma or Jeerakasala rice is used. Malabar spices, fried onions, fennel seeds, raisins and sautéed cashews are prepared together. The rice is prepared separately. They are mixed just before serving. It is quite a feast. Kuzhimanthi Biriyani, developed from Yemen’s classic rice dish, is also a craze in Kerala. Al Reem in Kochi serves it best with mayonnaise, salsa and salathar (salad).
Tehari Biriyani, The Official Veg Biriyani
Who says veg biriyani is an oxymoron? There is an amazing Biriyani tale associated with Veg Biriyani. Veg Biriyani also originated from the Mughals. It is Awadhi Biriyani cooked with rice and carrots, cauliflower and other vegetables in the Dum Pukt style, as a replacement for meat. The idea of vegetable Biriyani developed for feeding the Hindu and/or Jain book keeps at the Mughal Court.
Virtues in Varieties
There are broadly two styles of cooking Biriyani: Kachchi and Pakki. Kachchi style is where the marinated meat and rice are cooked together with the spices. Pakki style is where rice and meat are cooked separately and then layered. What ever the methods, styles, tricky twists and ingredients be used, biriyani remains India’s favourite. Biriyani has India’s heart.
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