Grand feasts define weddings across boundaries. Muslim weddings are no exception. Known for their culinary delicacies, the biryani is an integral part of Muslim wedding feasts. The following article traces the history of the royal dish along the Indian subcontinent.
Culinary delights of India leaves its own inscription on history. Annexed by numerous intruders across borders and boundaries, Indian cuisine has over the centuries become somewhat a melting pot. The culture of feast in India was largely introduced by Muslim invaders like the Arabs, Persians and Afghans. Developed during the 15th to the 18th century, Mughlai cuisine continues to enthrall gourmets as well as laymen across the Indian subcontinent.
One such dish that continues to fascinate millions across the subcontinent is the grand old Biryani. Once accepted in India in its full form, the biryani endured numerous deviations depending upon the region such as Hyderabadi Biryani Awadhi Biryani, Kolkata Biryani and so on.
The Origins of Biryani
The word biryani is derived from the Persian word Birian meaning ‘fried before cooking’. This exotic dish is believed to have been invented in the kitchens of the Muslim invaders. Today, the dish is largely consumed by the populace inhabiting the Indian subcontinent and it is an essential part of Muslim wedding in not only in India but also in other parts of the world.
However, the origin of Biryani in India can be traced to several anecdotes surrounding the same. Let us take a quick look at the same.
Though biryani is essentially associated with the Mughals, some evidences trace its origins to present day Tamil Nadu. Evidences show that a rice dish named ‘On Sooro’ was widely used to feed the military people in south India. The dish was made out of rice cooked in clarified butter. Other ingredients used were meat, coriander, pepper, bay leaf and turmeric. This is very close to what we know as biryani today.
Another interesting story surrounding the origins of the biryani revolves in the court of Emperor Shah Jahan. It is said that one fine day, his queen Mumtaz Mahal made a surprise visit to the barracks where the entire military force was stationed. She was shocked to find that most of the soldiers were malnourished. She immediately ordered for a dish to be prepared by the chef that included rice, meat and other ingredients. The objective was to provide the soldiers with proper nourishment.
One legend claims that, Timur the Lame, founder of the Timurid Dynasty and also the great-great grandfather of Babur (founder of the Mughal Dynasty in India) brought this exotic this to India from Kazakhstan via Afghanistan to north India.
It does not end here. One more anecdote traces the existence of the dish among the Nomads. The Nomads would bury an earthen pot filled with rice, meat, and spices in a pit. When dug out, the sumptuous biryani was ready.
Types of Biryani
With the passage of time and due to geographical and local influences, the original biryani underwent several changes. This gave rise to the various types of biryanis existing in the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia as we know today. Let us take a sneak peek into the same.
Lucknowi/Awadhi Biryani: Biryani and Lucknow almost share a symbiotic relationship with each other. Also known as Pakka Biryani, in this dish, the meat and the rice are prepared separately and then put together and cooked in slow flame for a long time (Dum Phukt style).
Sindhi Biryani: Originating in present day Pakistan, the Sindhi biryani is cooked with meat and some vegetables like tomatoes. This variety is predominant in Pakistan and in parts of North West India.
Calcutta Biryani: Boiled potatoes are unique only to the Kolkata biryani. It is said that the biryani was brought to Calcutta by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in the mid- 1850s. Deported by the British to Calcutta, however, the Nawab remembered to take along with him the royal chef. However, since meat became expensive it was increasingly becoming difficult to afford the same. It was then that potatoes replaced meat. Almost more than two centuries now, the tradition still continues.
Hyderabadi Biryani: Relished all across the country, Hyderabadi Biryani was popularized directly from the Nizam’s Kitchen which is known to prepare 49 varieties of Biryani.
Apart from these, several other forms of biryani exist viz. Ambur Biryani, Memoni Biryani, Bhatkali Biryani, Malabar Biryani, Dindigul Biryani and many more. Whether served at wedding or relished just like that, the exotic dish of biryani will always remain a favourite.