A handi of biryani, with rice, meat (or vegetables), and spices, is a complete meal in itself. Be it a formal gathering or an informal meet among friends, a handi of biryani suffices. Each spoonful of this traditional dish is suffused with aromatic spices and rich flavors. Lovers of the dish swear by its distinctive taste. However, a key fact most biryani lovers don't know is that despite its various local varieties, the dish did not originate in India.
The Indian subcontinent has a history of foreign rulers, with each ruler introducing the country to various cultures and traditions as well as cuisines. The Turks, Afghans, Persians, and Arabs have left behind a rich culture of foods and feasts, while the Europeans have introduced the country to the popular vegetables such as potatoes and tomatoes. Even the tea we swear by had been growing wild in the northeast until the Britishers started its commercial production. Staking the claim to fame loudest among all such dishes is biryani. Traditionally made as mutton and chicken biryani, the dish was introduced to the subcontinent by Arabs and Persians.
How Biryani Acquired It's Name?
During the Mughal reign, Awadh (now Lucknow) was the capital of their kingdom, which is how the Awadhi biryani with its delicate flavors got its name. When Aurangzeb became the ruler, he sent his Nizams to Hyderabad and Arcot and their chefs created the Hyderabadi and Arcot biryanis by infusing the local flavours.
With the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah deposed to Kolkata, his chef created the traditional Kolkata biryani by adding potatoes, which are now integral to the biryani of that region. Tehri biryani, a vegetarian version of the dish, is believed to have been created during this time as food for bookkeepers of the court who would not eat mutton biryani.
Why is Biryani so popular?
The primary distinction between a biryani cooked in India and elsewhere in the world is the choice of spices and flavors. While India, the land of spices, has contributed immensely to the various flavors of the biryani, the traditional Persian or Arabian biryanis are quite subtle.
Since there is a vast variation in the flavors of different regions of the country, the spices used in the biryanis are also unique. Biryanis from the south of India have the distinctive coconut and tamarind flavor and could have an extra dash of chilis, but the ones in north India use curd as a marinade and delicate whole spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and bay leaf.
Some biryanis are also flavored with jasmine, rose, kewra, and saffron, using screw-pine and other dry fruits for the added nutty flavor. This flavor can also be created by frying the rice in ghee before it is cooked with the meat or vegetables.
Lovers of the juicy chicken and mutton biryanis are known to playfully call the Veg biryani a pulao. The distinction between pilaf (pulao) and biryani has long been a bone of contention for most biryani lovers.Preparing a pilaf dish is a much simpler task than the authentic biryani. For the pulao, you need to delicately fry the meat or vegetables along with the rice and then cook it in a measured quantity of water until done. However, for a biryani, partially cooked rice and meat/vegetables are layered in a handi and cooked on dum.
The historian Lizzie Collingham is of the view that the modern biryani is a marriage between the Persian pilaf and the delicate Indian spices and flavors. On the contrary, a Mughal text of the 16th century refers to the biryani as an archaic term, being replaced by the modern pilaf. Yet another view is that the biryani originated in the south of India and has been derived from pilaf varieties brought to the Indian subcontinent by the Arab traders.
I am always a fan of Biryani. What about you guys?