Of all the culinary classics synonymous with the rich food heritage of India, biryani is during a class of its own. Variations on the straightforward rice, meat, vegetable and spice dish are found in every section of India, though it’s roughly known how it became such a staple.
One theory traces its origins to Persia(where “Berian” means “fried before cooking”) and therefore the Mughals, who brought the dish to the Indian subcontinent within the 16th century. Another is that it’s an evolution of the plov, or rice pilaf, dropped at the region by the Macedonian Alexander the Great around 327 BCE. One more theory is that biryani has local roots within the simple rice and beef dish from the Hindu scripture Brihadaranyaka Upanishad around 700 BCE.
In the end, it is immaterial considering the mishmash of indigenous flavours and native ingredients. There’s now a special biryani for each region of the country, making it a dish as diverse as India itself. There’s Bhatkali biryani with its fiery red chillies, Kashmiri biryani with its pungent asafoetida(fennel powder) and Beary biryani with its no-spice lightness. Not to mention Bhopali biryani, which is ideal for mutton lovers and Mughlai biryani, which is served with almond paste and edible fruit the way 16th-century royalty liked it.
Eight essential varieties of biryani
- Lucknowi, or Awadhi, biryani
The crown king of all biryanis, Lucknowi biryani was created in Northern India by Mughal royals in Awadh around the 18th century, when culinary finesse rose to its peak within the royal kitchens. The rice is cooked separately in spices, and marinated chicken is added later during a separate layer and cooked in a vessel over a coffee flame in dum pukht style(meaning during a pot sealed with flour) for hours. Delicate whole spices like saffron and star anise play the role of showcasing, instead of overpowering, the rich flavours of the meat. The subtle fragrance stays on as an after-effect.
- Kolkata biryani
With the onset of a people’s rule, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah(ruler of Awadh) was deposed to Kolkata. Together with his entourage, the culture and traditions of Awadh came with him, then did the biryani. In Kolkata, the addition of deep-fried potatoes(to replace the costlier meat) resulted in a very new signature style. The result is the lightly spiced and slightly sweet Kolkata biryani. Nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, cloves, cardamom and yoghurt are used for the marination of the meat. Essence and saffron are its special ingredients.
- Memoni biryani
This variation belongs to western Gujarat. It’s easily one in every of the spiciest kinds of biryanis available within the country. Soft mutton chunks from the bottom of the dish, together with yoghurt, fried onions, potatoes, and tomatoes. This one is zesty and spirited.
- Hyderabadi biryani
Biryani reached Hyderabad with the invading army of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb within the late 1600s, and therefore the chefs for Nizam(the monarchy of Hyderabad) developed 47 new varieties for royal consumption. The vegetarian version is termed Tahiri biryani. The quintessential Hyderabadi biryani cooks raw goat meat and rice together until the meat flavours absorb into the rice. Fried onions, mint, and coriander leaves add flavour, but it’s the strong spices and sourness that outline Hyderabadi biryani.
- Malabar biryani
Another special Biryani from the Kozhikode region of Kerala, but this one is cooked in dum style (slow within the oven), making it moister. Varieties include mutton, chicken, prawn and fish. Fried onions provide it with a brownish colour, and it’s garnished with sauteed dry fruits. Spices never interfere with the taste of the meat, instead they enhance its taste. Aroma meets spice for a winning combination during this version.
- Thalassery biryani
This coastal Malabar recipe uses small-grain Khyma or Jeerakasala rice rather than Basmati and it uses plenty of ghee. Fish or prawns are often used rather than the chicken or mutton utilized in other regions. All most ingredients are cooked separately and mixed later. Onion, ginger, garlic paste, lime juice, curd, coriander and mint leaves are used, together with local spices. Chilli content is low, and it’s garnished with cashew nuts and sultana raisins.
- Ambur biryani
Strong meaty flavours compose this type of biryani. Coming from the Madras region in Southern India, dried chilli paste and whole spices are the trademarks of this biryani. The dish is typically sour eggplant curry. Cooked in dum style using coconut milk, this recipe includes curd and mint leaves and also the taste closely resembles that of Lucknowi biryani. It is considered light on the stomach.
- Dindigul biryani
Another product of the state region, this one uses jeera samba rice, which is right for absorbing flavours. Cube-sized meat pieces are used rather than large chunks. The distinguishing factor is the use of curd and lemon for a sweet and tangy taste. Pepper leaves are added to fireside up the palate.