The name Biryani is derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان) which means “fried” or “roasted”
This royal dish is believed to find its roots in the rustic kitchens of the Mughal Emperors in 1800. Through the ages Biryani travelled from the northern part in India to the southern tip. The kitchens of the Nizams in present day Hyderabad boast of 49 different varieties of Biryani cooked with different meats, fish and vegetables. A few common versions are Hyderabadi Biryani, Awadhi Biryani, Thalassery Biryani, Vaniyambadi Biriyani, Bhatkali biryani, Memoni biryani, Dindigul biryani, Kacchi biryani, Sindhi biryani, Calcutta biryani. All of them use different techniques to cook and use of spices are varied as well. Not to mention i love all of them.
However the traditional method to cook biryani was by a method called “Dum” it simply means to breathe in. A very heavy bottomed pot is used for cooking in which the food is tightly sealed with a “Purdah” also known as veil which is a simple dough made of water and flour used to seal the pot with the lid and the food is cooked on slow fire. This process of slow cooking releases maximum flavour and aroma.
The legend has it that the Biryani was brought to India from Persia through Afghanistan by the Arab traders, another source indicates that the biryani was brought by Emperor Taimur Lang from Persia to India as early as 1394. There is also a mention about a rice dish known as “Oon Soru” in Tamil as early as the year 2 A.D. Oon Soru was composed of rice, ghee, meat, turmeric, coriander, pepper, and bay leaf, and was used to feed military warriors.
Another story about Biryani is, once Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1641) visited the army barracks and found that men were under nourished. So she asked her chef to make a dish with meat, rice and spices that can become a complete meal with balanced nutrients. This is how the biryani was originated.
Still some people say that the biryani originated in West Asia. The wanderers used to bury an earthen pot filled with rice, meat and spices into a pit and after some time the pot was dug up giving rise to the delicious biryani. Although there are many legends regarding discovery of biryani in India, the Islamic Persians have made the biryani popular in India. In 1856, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah introduced Biryani to Calcutta which became Calcutta Biryani. This Biryani was cooked with meat and whole boiled potatoes. When Aurangzeb installed Nizam-ul-Mulk as Asfa Jahi, the ruler of the Hyderabad, the Hyderabadi Biryani came into picture. The Tipu Sultan of Curnatic brought the Biryani to Mysore. Tahiri Biryani was introduced by Hindu Vegetarian bookkeepers-hired by the Nizams and Nawabs. The tahiri biryani is made with vegetables rather than meat. Hence, you see that there are so many stories abut the history and origin of Biryani.
Biryani has evolved with time and chefs in every age have improvised this dish. The main ingredients for making Biryani are good quality rice usually basmati, leg of goat which is used traditionally (however different meats are used today like beef, venison, hare, chicken, quail, fish and prawns) yoghurt, ginger, garlic, fried onions and potatoes. Now as i mentioned every region has a different version some also use tomatoes and herbs like coriander and mint and dry fruits. Spices play a very important role in dishing out a good biryani, some recipes call for a very limited use of spices while some use around 15-20 different spices including saffron. An extensive use of rose water and srewpine water (kewra) is also prevalent along with Sweet Ittar which is a natural perfume oil derived from botanical sources.
In most of the versions the meat and rice are both cooked separately and then layered together, sealed in a pot and cooked.The meat is marinated with yoghurt, spices, ginger, garlic and fried onions along with ghee and other aromatics and cooked over slow heat. The rice is par boiled and then layered with the cooked meat in a heavy bottomed pot, sealed with dough and cooked very slowly, heat is applied from beneath and top both to make sure its cooked evenly throughout. Biryani is traditionally served with either Raita a condiment which is made with yoghurt and seasoned with coriander, cumin, mint, and other herbs and spices or saalan usually gravy which is reserved after cooking the meat.
So i hope who ever reads this will definitely give this historical and royal dish a try at home. Please Email me for recipes if you need them.
The pictures above are those of biryani cooked in my kitchen and we usually cook for 10 to 1000 people for various occasions.
Whenever i design a menu for my clients, biryani always plays a focal point on the menu as i believe special occasions have to be complimented with special dishes.
I leave you with this famous Persian quote which was said about India
Agar Firdaus bar ru-e-zamin ast, Hami ast o- hami ast o- hami ast.
If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here it is here.