The Biryani Story

By Sama Ankolkar September 25, 2018
Biryani? More like Bae-riyani!

Cuisine leaves its own imprint on history. My fondest memory when it comes to food, the one that has made the most impact in terms of flavour is biryani; loved and appreciated by almost everyone I know. To me, the layered dish is the epitome of a wholesome meal with flavours, texture and pleasure with every morsel. Not only have I loved to eat this, but I enjoy making this dish with the same gusto. Upon doing a little research, I soon learnt where this beautiful dish originated from.

India witnessed many invaders; and with every invader came a different culture and a new cuisine. The Mughlai cuisine that our country is famous for was developed from the 15th century to about the 19th century during the reign of the Mughals. The Mughals raised cooking to an art form, introducing several recipes – biryani being a prime example. Marinating, slow-cooking and roasting of spices (my favourite processes when it comes to cooking) were brought into this country through this cuisine.

While biryani is popularly associated with the Mughals, there is some historical evidence to show that there were other, similar rice dishes prior to the Mughal invasion. There is 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 leaves and was used to feed military warriors.

Oon Soru. Image Source

Oon Soru. Image Source

The word biryani is derived from the Persian word Birian, which means ‘fried before cooking’ and Birinj, the Persian word for rice. There are various theories related to the origin of this scrumptious dish. Many historians believe that biryani originated from Persia and was brought to India by the Mughals. Biryani was further developed in the Mughal royal kitchen. Even the Nizams of Hyderabad and Nawabs of Lucknow were known for their appreciation of this delicacy.

Traditionally, Biryani is cooked over charcoal in an earthen pot. But all across India there are different variations of biryani, each region adding their own little touch of culture to this dish.

  • Mughlai Biryani – perfectly spiced meat chunks with kewra scented rice.
  • Lucknow Biryani – known as “pukki” biryani, where meat and rice are cooked separately and then layered in a copper vessel for the finish.
  • Kolkata Biryani – made by using yoghurt based marinade for the meat, which is cooked separately from the light yellow rice.
  • Bombay Biryani – a melting pot of flavours. The use of dried plums and kewra water gives it a slight sweetness to the spicy meat.
  • Hyderabadi Biryani – aromatic saffron is the star of this dish.
  • Bangalorean Biryani – cooked by using the special zeera samba rice only.
  • Thalassery Biryani – both sweet and savoury, here you’ll find soft chicken wings, mild Malabar spices and kaima rice.
Sundays= Biryani Day!

Sundays= Biryani Day!

Once a dish for royalty, today’s biryani reflects local sensibilities and traditions and is a popular and common dish, making it accessible to everyone. There are very few problems that a hot plate of biryani cannot solve. I know that it almost defines a good Sunday lunch for me and I hope that a little insight to this dish will help you savour each bite of your next biryani, even more!