History of Biryani

Biryani originated in Persia and might have taken couple of different routes to arrive in India

I want to acknowledge Vishy Shenoy for his critic to this article.

Biryani is derived from the Farsi word 'Birian'. Based on the name, and cooking style (Dum), one can conclude that the dish originated in Persia and/or Arabia. It could have come from Persia via Afghanistan to North India. It could have also been brought by the Arab traders via Arabian sea to Calicut. We know the history little better during 1800 to 1900. During Mogul empire, Lucknow was known as Awadh, giving rise to Awadhi Biryani. In 1856, British deposed Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in Calcutta, giving rise to Calcutta Biryani. Aurangzeb installed Nizam-ul-mulk as the Asfa Jahi ruler of Hyderabad, as well as a 'Nawab of Arcot' to oversee Aaru Kaadu region (Six Forrests) south of Hyderabad. These moves gave rise to Hyderabadi Biryani and Arcot Biryani. The Biryani spread to Mysore by Tipu Sultan of Carnatic. Needless to say it was a royal dish for Nawabs and Nizams. They hired vegetarian Hindus as bookkeepers leading to the development of Tahiri Biryani.

Besides the historical facts, the story gets little fuzzy with legends.

One legend has it that Timor, the lame brought it down from Kazakhstan via Afghanistan to Northern  India. According to another legend, Mumtaz Mahal (the beauty who sleeps in Taj Mahal) concocted this dish as a "complete meal" to feed the army. Yet, some say the dish really originated in West Asia. The Nomads would burry an earthen pot full of meat, rice and spices in a pit, eventually the pot was dug up and there was the Biryani. 

I don't want to leave this topic without mentioning at least the names of Turkish Pilaf, Iranian Biryani, Quaboli, Malaysian Biryani, Indonesian Biryani, Sindhi Biryani  Idiyappam Biryani from Sri Lanka, and and Kashmiri Yakhni Biryani.


What is the difference between Biryani and Pilaf?

What is a Rice Pilaf?

Long grain rice is soaked in water. In the mean while, the meat fried in Ghee and cooked with aromatic spices in a plenty of water. After the meat is cooked you have plenty of Shorba (broth). More water and pre-soaked rice are added. It is boiled and heat turned down to simmer. The rice is basically cooked in meat broth. Nuts like Almonds, Cashews, dried fruits like raisins or apricots may be added. The aromatic spices specially Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves and Bay-leaves are used.


What is Biryani?

Biryani is derived from the Persian word 'Birian'.  In Farsi, Birian means 'Fried before Cooking'. 
In the olden days, rice was fried (without washing) in Ghee (Clarified butter). It did two things: 1. It gave the rice a nutty flavor 2. It burned the outside starch layer gelatinizing it. After the rice is stir-fried, it was boiled in water with spices till half cooked.


Preferred choice choice for meat is  leg of Telangana goat. The meat is marinated in a paste of with Papaya, whole-milk yogurt and spices. Thereafter, the meat may be cooked.

In an earthen pot called Handi, the rice and meat are layered, bottom and top layer are always rice. An interlayer of some condiments may be introduced between the meat and the rice. Cardamom, Mace, Screwpine essence, rose water may be added to give flowery and herbal aroma. The Handi is sealed and put on the coal embers to cook. For Calicut Biryani, the Handi is placed on the embers produced by coconut shell. The seal is broken only when ready to serve.


What type of rice to make Biryani?

Historically, long-grain brown rice was used in North India; while, short grain Zeera Samba rice was used in South India. In Bangladesh, puffed rice is used. Parboiled long grain rice has following advantages:
1) Long grain rice has low Amylopectin starch, making it less sticky.
2) Parboiling makes the starch gelatinized making it further less susceptible to being sticky.
3) The brownness of the rice is due to the bran on the rice. The bran gives the 'chewy' texture to the grain.
Most common rice used today, is white Basmati rice.


What types of meat are used to make Biryani?

Traditionally, the leg of goat was used to make Biryani. Now a days, depending on the region and restaurant, one can find Biryani made with Mutton, Lamb, Beef, Chicken, Fish, and Prawns.


What types of vegetables are used to make Biryani?

In Calcutta region, potatoes are the most common item. Cauliflower, carrots, peas, sweet bell peppers and green beans are traditional. New items include Jack fruit, Bottle gourd, and Garbanzo beans.


Types of Meat Biryani

There are two basic types of Biryani, namely; Kutchi (raw) Biryani, and Pukki (cooked) Biryani. Kutchi Biryani does not meet the strict meaning of Biran in Farsi meaning 'Fried before Cooking'; while Pukki Biryani comes close. For Kutchi Biryani, raw marinated meat is layered with raw rice. For Pukki Biryani, cooked meat and cooked rice are layered and put in Handi for the finish.

At present, there are two competing types of Biryani served in India: Lucknow, and Hyderabad. Lucknow Biryani is a type of Pukki Biryani. Hyderabad Biryani is a form of Kutchi Biryani.

Biryani Food Fight Lucknow versus Hyderabad

Chicken Biryani Awadhi (Lucknow) style Recipe

Lamb Biryani Hyderabad Style Recipe


What makes a good Biryani?

Everyone has their own little list. My list is simple and in order of priority follows:
1. Aroma. It must have both sweet fragrance and herbal warm aroma.
2. It should be savory, but not spicy
3. Finally, it should meet the age old test. Drop a handful of Biryani on a hard floor. No two grains of rice should be stuck to each other.