Biryani is an evergreen classic that really needs no introduction. India offers so much on its culinary platter but the one dish Indians unanimously love indulging in is the mouth-watering biryani. With local and hyperlocal variations having evolved into distinctive styles of biryanis, one is spoilt for options when it comes to experiencing this melting pot of flavors. The deliciously complex blend of flavors, spices, and aromas in biryani have come to epitomise the zenith of Indian cuisine. So if you are a die-hard fan of this delicious dish, take things up a notch and tease your taste buds a little more with the story of what makes biryani so extraordinary. Though it may appear to be a dish indigenous to India, in reality the dish originated quite far away. Biryani is derived from the Persian word Birian, which means ‘fried before cooking’ and Birinj, the Persian word for rice. While there are multiple theories about how biryani made its way to India, it is generally accepted that it originated in West Asia.
One legend has it that the Turk-Mongol conqueror, Timur, brought the precursor to the biryani with him when he arrived at the frontiers of India in 1398. Believed to be the war campaign diet of Timur’s army, an earthen pot full of rice, spices and whatever meats were available would be buried in a hot pit, before being eventually dug up and served to the warriors.
Another legend has it that the dish was brought to the southern Malabar coast of India by Arab traders who were frequent visitors there. There are records of a rice dish known as Oon Soru in Tamil literature as early as the year 2 A.D. Oon Soru was said to be made of rice, ghee, meat, turmeric, coriander, pepper, and bay leaf, and was used to feed military warriors. That the story and its been shared its richness to fill even our mind.
A world renowned dish, the Nawab of the Dishes is the Biryani. The aroma of the Basmati rice, steamed with authentic Indian spices, chunky pieces of Ghosht, Murgh, Fish or Soya is like Rambha of the culinary world. Initially introduced by the Hyderabadi Nizams, its taste was said to be so divine that it was presented as a reward to the soldiers, to those who would fight, win and were lucky enough to witness another sunset.
Each city has its own way of trademarking its Biryani, mostly varying on the method of cooking, that being the Pukka style and the Kutchi style. While in the pukka method layers of meat and rice are cooked together, in the kutchi style they are cooked separately and then later mixed together.
Whatever said and done, this King of food does a great job of satisfying its subjects and is therefore known for its prosperity. Hence, the battle still rages on, not on physical grounds but as to which Indian city plays host to the most luxurious Biriyani.
Every city of India has its own version of biryani and battles break out on which one is the best. If you were to dub one dish as the ‘national dish of India,’ then to me that would be the biryani. There are vegetarian versions of it too now, so there’s a biryani for everyone you could say.
While each biryani has its own loyalists, I am yet to come across a group as passionate and, more importantly, as vociferous as the devotees of the Hyderabadi biryani. As a social experiment, start off any discussion or poll on biryani on social media and you will see Hyderabadis from all over the world come out, proclaiming strongly that theirs is the only ‘real’ biryani and the ‘best’ one. While I won’t necessarily agree with that argument, I would definitely doff my cap to their fervor and what’s life without true love after all.
Biryani is blood, as Rodrigo of the Amazon Prime series ‘Mozart in the Jungle’, would say!
I had gone to Hyderabad a few days before, to conduct focus groups for a market research agency I worked for. While the research was about airline travel, I used the opportunity to check out some of the city’s biryani joints online which were local favorites. I had a very good experience with Walima Ki Dawat delivery and the special marriage feast that made my day.