Biryani is an Urdu word derived from the Persian language, which was used as an official language in different parts of medieval India by various Islamic dynasties. One theory is that it originates from birinj, the Persian word for rice. Another is that it derives from biryan or beriyan, which is to fry or to roast.
According to historian Lizzie Collingham, the modern biryani developed in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Empire (1526–1857), as a confluence of the native spicy rice dishes of India and the Persian pilaf. Indian restaurateur Kris Dhillon believes that the dish originated in Persia, and was brought to India by the Mughals. However, another theory claims that the dish was known in India before the first Mughal emperor Babur came to India. The 16th-century Mughal text Ain-i-Akbari makes no distinction between biryanis and pilaf (or pulao): it states that the word "biryani" is of older usage in India. A similar theory, that biryani came to India with Timur's invasion, appears to be incorrect, because there is no record of biryani having existed in his native land during that period.
According to Pratibha Karan, the biryani is of South Indian origin, derived from pilaf varieties brought to the Indian subcontinent by the Arab traders. She speculates that the pulao was an army dish in medieval India. The armies, unable to cook elaborate meals, would prepare a one-pot dish where they cooked rice with whichever meat was available. Over time, the dish became biryani due to different methods of cooking, with the distinction between "pulao" and "biryani" being arbitrary. According to Vishwanath Shenoy, the owner of a biryani restaurant chain in India, one branch of biryani comes from the Mughals, while another was brought by the Arab traders to Malabar in South India.
Difference between biryani and pulao
Pilaf or pulao, as it is known in the Indian subcontinent, is another mixed rice dish popular in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Opinions differ on the differences between pulao and biryani, and whether there is a difference between the two at all.
According to Delhi-based historian Sohail Nakhvi, pulao tends to be (comparatively) plainer than the biryani and consists of meat (or vegetables) cooked with rice. Biryani on the other hand contains more gravy (due to the use of yakhni in it), is often cooked for longer (hence yielding more tender meat or vegetables) and with additional condiments. Pratibha Karan states that while the terms are often applied arbitrarily, the main distinction is that a biryani comprises two layers of rice with a layer of meat (or vegetables) in the middle; the pulao is not layered.
Biryani is the primary dish in a meal, while the pulao is usually a secondary accompaniment to a larger meal
In biryani, meat and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together. Pulao is a single-pot dish: meat and rice are simmered in a liquid until the liquid is absorbed. However, some other writers, such as Holly Shaffer (based on her observations in Lucknow), R. K. Saxena and Sangeeta Bhatnagar have reported pulao recipes in which the rice and meat are cooked separately and then mixed before the dum cooking.
Biryanis have more complex and stronger spices compared to pulao. The British-era author Abdul Halim Sharar mentions this as their primary difference: biryani has a stronger taste of curried rice due to a greater amount of spices.
Ingredients vary according to the region the biryani is from and the type of meat used. Meat (of either chicken, goat, beef, prawn or fish) is the prime ingredient with rice. As is common in dishes of the Indian subcontinent, some vegetables are also used when preparing biryani. Corn may be used depending on the season and availability. Navratan biryani tends to use sweeter richer ingredients such as cashews, kismis and fruits such as apples and pineapples.
In a kacchi biryani, raw marinated meat is layered with raw rice before being cooked together. It is also known as kacchi yeqni. It is cooked typically with chicken or goat meat but rarely with fish or prawns. The dish is cooked layered with the meat and the dahi-based marinade at the bottom of the cooking pot and the layer of rice (usually basmati rice or chinigura rice) placed over it. Potatoes are often added before adding the rice layer. The pot is usually sealed (typically with wheat dough) to allow cooking in its own steam and not opened until it is ready to serve.
Tehari, Tehri or Tehari are variants on the name given to the vegetarian version of biryani. It was developed for the Hindu bookkeepers of the Muslim Nawabs. It is prepared by adding the potatoes to the rice as opposed to the case of traditional biryani, where the rice is added to the meat. In Kashmir, tehari is sold as street food. Tehari became more popular during World War II, when meat prices increased substantially and potatoes became the popular substitute in biryani.
Beef biryani, as the name implies, uses beef as meat. In Hyderabad, it is famous as Kalyani biryani, in which beef (buffalo meat) is used. This meal was started after the Kalyani Nawabs of Bidar came to Hyderabad sometime in the 18th century. The Kalyani biryani is made with small cubes of beef, regular spices, onions and lots of tomatoes. It has a distinct tomato, jeera and dhania flavour. In Kerala, beef biryani is very famous. The Bhatkali biryani is a special biryani where the main ingredient is onion. It was started by the Arab settlers who married the local Jain women. Its variants include beef, goat, chicken, titar, egg, fish, crab, prawn and vegetable biryani.
There are many varieties of biryani, the names of which are often based on the region they are from (for example, Sindhi biryani developed in the Sindh region of what is now Pakistan, Hyderabadi biryani developed in the city of Hyderabad in South India, etc.). Some have taken the name of the shop that sells it (for example: Haji Biriyani, Haji Nanna Biriyani in Old Dhaka, Fakhruddin Biriyani in Dhaka, Students biryani in Karachi, Lucky biryani in Bandra, Mumbai and Baghdadi biryani in Colaba, Mumbai). Biryanis are often specific to the respective Muslim community from where it comes, as it is usually the defining dish of that community. Cosmopolitanism has also created these native versions to suit the tastes of others as well.
The Delhi version of the biryani developed with a unique local flavour as the Mughal kings shifted their political capital to the North Indian city of Delhi. Until the 1950s, most people cooked biryani in their house and rarely ate out. Hence, restaurants primarily catered to travellers and merchants. Any region that saw more of these two classes of people nurtured more restaurants, and thus their own versions of biryani. As per Nakhwi, this is the reason most shops historically selling biryani in Delhi tend to be near mosques such as Jama Masjid (for travelers) or traditional shopping districts (such as Chandni Chowk). Each part of Delhi has its own style of biryani, often based on its original purpose thus giving rise to Nizamuddin Biryani, Shahjahanabad biryani, etc. The Nizamuddin biryani is usually sparse in the more expensive meat and spices as it was primarily meant to be made in bulk for offering at the Nizamuddin Dargah shrine and thereafter to distribute to devotees. A non-dum variety of biryani, using a lot of green chillies, popularized by the Babu Shahi Bawarchi shop located outside National Sports Club, Delhi is informally called Babu Shahi biryani. Another version of Delhi biryani uses achaar (pickles) and is called achaari biryani.
The city of Dhaka in Bangladesh is known for selling "Chevon Biryani" (a dish made with highly seasoned rice and goat meat). The recipe includes highly seasoned rice, goat meat, mustard oil, garlic, onion, black pepper, saffron, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, salt, lemon, dahi, peanuts, cream, raisins and a small amount of cheese (either from cows or buffalo). Hajir biryani is a favourite among Bangladeshis living abroad. The recipe was handed over by the founder of the restaurant to his next generation. Haji Mohammad Shahed claimed, "I have never changed anything, not even the amount of salt".
Dhakai Kacchi Biryani is accompanied by borhani, a salted mint drink made of yogurt, boiled eggs and salt.
The exotic and aromatic Sindhi biryani is known in Pakistan for its spicy taste, fragrant rice and delicate meat. Sindhi biryani is a beloved staple in food menus of Pakistani cuisine and Sindhi cuisine. Sindhi biryani is prepared with meat and an amalgamation of basmati rice, vegetables and various types of spices. Sindhi Biryani is often served by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in most of their international flights. A special version of Sindhi biryani sold by a shop in Karachi called "Students center" is popularly called "Students biryani."
Hyderabadi biryani is one of India's most famous biryanis; some say biryani is synonymous with Hyderabad. The crown dish of the Hyderabadi Muslims, Hyderabadi biryani developed under the rule of Asaf Jah I, who had been appointed as the Governor of Deccan by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It is made with basmati rice, spices and goat meat. Popular variations use chicken instead of goat meat. There are various forms of Hyderabadi biryani. One such biryani is the kachay gosht ki biryani or the dum biryani, where the goat meat is marinated and cooked along with the rice. It is left on a slow fire or dum for a fragrant and aromatic flavour.
Thalassery biryani is the variation of biryani found in the Indian state of Kerala. It is one of the many dishes of the Malabar Muslim community, and a very popular one at that.
The ingredients are chicken, spices and the specialty is the choice of rice named Khyma. Khyma rice is generally mixed with ghee. Although a huge amount of spices such as mace, cashew nuts, sultana raisins, fennel-cumin seeds, tomato, onion, ginger, garlic, shallot, cloves and cinnamon are used, there is only a small amount of chili (or chili powder) used in the preparation.
A pakki biryani, the Thalassery biryani uses a small-grained thin (not round) fragrant variety of rice known as Khyma or Jeerakasala. The dum method of preparation (sealing the lid with dough (maida) or cloth and placing red-hot charcoal above the lid) is applied here.
Calcutta or Kolkata biryani evolved from the Lucknow style, when Awadh's last NawabWajid Ali Shah was exiled in 1856 to the Kolkata suburb of Metiabruz. Shah brought his personal chef with him. The poorer households of Kolkata, which could not afford meat, used potatoes instead, which went on to become a specialty of the Calcutta biryani. The Calcutta biryani primarily uses meat and potatoes. However, this theory is vehemently opposed by Janab Shahanshah Mirza, great great grandson of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. According to him, Awadh's last ruler used to get an annual pension of Rs.12 Lakh and he was the highest pensioner in India. He was an animal lover and had set up a zoo in Kolkata. He used to spend about 25% of his pension amount on the maintenance of zoo and upkeep of animals. A man who can spend a substantial part of his income on the welfare of animals can certainly afford meat in his biryani, argues Mirza. He points out that potatoes were first introduced in Surat in 17th century. It slowly spread to different regions and was brought to Bengal by the English traders. In those days, potato was an exotic vegetable and because of low yield it was extremely expensive. The chefs who had accompanied Nawab Wajid Ali Shah tried various combinations and experiments to enhance the taste of biryani. On one such occasion potatoes were added while cooking biryani. It appealed to the taste buds of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. He was so pleased that he ordered that henceforth whenever biryani is cooked it should be with this vegetable. And the rest is history.
The Calcutta biryani is much lighter on spices. The marinade primarily uses nutmeg, cinnamon, mace along with cloves and cardamom in the dahi-based marinade for the meat which is cooked separately from rice. This combination of spices gives it a distinct flavour as compared to other styles of biryani. The rice is flavoured with ketaki water or rose water along with saffron to give it flavour and light yellowish colour.
The Ambur/Vaniyambadi biryani is accompanied with 'dhalcha,' a sour brinjal curry and 'pachadi' or raitha, which is sliced onions mixed with plain curd, tomato, chillies and salt. It has a distinctive aroma and is considered light on the stomach. The usage of spice is moderate and curd is used as a gravy base. It also has a higher ratio of meat to rice.
Chettinad biryani is famous in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is made of jeeraka samba rice, smells of spices and ghee. It is best taken with nenju elumbu kuzhambu, a spicy and tangy goat meat gravy. The podi kozhi is usually topped with fried onions and curry leaves.
This is an integral part of the Navayath cuisine and a speciality of Bhatkal, a coastal town in Karnataka. Its origins are traced to the Persian traders who left behind not only biryani but a variation of kababs and Indian breads. In Bhatkali biryani the meat is cooked in an onion and green chilli based masala and layered with fragrant rice. It has a unique spicy and heady flavour, and the rice is overwhelmingly white with mild streaks of orange. Though similar to the ones in Thalassery and Kozhikode, this biryani differs with lingering after-notes of mashed onions laced with garlic, and a few chillies and spices littered with curry leaves lends a unique flavour to Bhatkal biryani. No oil is used.
Memoni biryani is an extremely spicy variety developed by the Memons of Gujarat-Sindh region in India and Pakistan. It is made with lamb, dahi, fried onions, and potatoes, and fewer tomatoes compared to Sindhi biryani. Memoni biryani also uses less food colouring compared to other biryanis, allowing the rich colours of the various meats, rice, and vegetables to blend without too much of the orange colouring.
The Dindigul town of Tamil Nadu is noted for its biryani, which uses a little curd and lemon juice to get a tangy taste.
The Bohri biryani, prepared by the Bohris is flavoured with a lot of tomatoes. It is very popular in Karachi.
Kalyani biryani is a typical biryani from old state of Hyderabad. Also known as the 'poor man's' Hyderabadi biryani, the Kalyani biryani is always made from small cubes of buffalo meat.
The Kalyani biryani is supposed to have originated in Bidar during the reign of the Kalyani Nawabs, who migrated to Hyderabad after one of the nawabs, Ghazanfur Jang married into the Asaf Jahi family. The Kalyani biryani was served by the Kalyani nawabs to all of their subjects who came from Bidar to Hyderabad and stayed or visited their devdi or noble mansion.
This was the practice for many decades. But after Operation Polo in which the Indian army took over Hyderabad State, the state of the nobles went into decline. Some of their illustrious cooks set up their own stalls and introduced the Kalyani biryani to the local populace of Hyderabad state.
Sri Lankan biryani
Sri Lankan chicken biryani
Biryani was brought into Sri Lanka by the South Indian Muslims who were trading in the Northern part of Sri Lanka and in Colombo in the early 1900s. In Sri Lanka, it is Buryani, a colloquial word which generated from Buhari Biryani. In many cases, Sri Lankan biryani is much spicier than most Indian varieties. Side dishes may include acchar, Malay pickle, cashew curry and mint sambol.
The type of biryani popular in the Palakkad and Coimbatore regions. This was most commonly prepared by Rawther family in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This type of biryani is cooked in a different style. Goat meat is most commonly used in this type of biryani. The biryani is entirely different from malabar biryani.
Outside the Indian subcontinent
A dish of Burmese biryani (locally known as danpauk), as served at Kyet Shar
In Myanmar (Burma), biryani is known in Burmese as danpauk or danbauk, from the Persian dum pukht. Featured ingredients include cashew nuts, yogurt, raisins and peas, chicken, cloves, cinnamon, saffron and bay leaf. In Burmese biryani, the chicken is cooked with the rice.[better source needed] Biryani is also eaten with a salad of sliced onions and cucumber.
One form of "Arabic" biryani is the Iraqi preparation (برياني: "biryani"), where the rice is usually saffron-based with chicken usually being the meat or poultry of choice. It is most popular in Iraqi Kurdistan. Most variations also include vermicelli, fried onions, fried potato cubes, almonds and raisins spread liberally over the rice. Sometimes, a sour/spicy tomato sauce is served on the side (maraq).
A different dish called biryan is popular in Afghanistan. Biryan traces its origins to the same source as biryani, and is today sold in Afghanistan as well as in Bhopal, India. Biryan is prepared by cooking gosht and rice together, but without the additional gravy (yakhni) and other condiments that are used in biryani. The Delhi-based historian Sohail Hashmi refers to the biryan as midway between the pulao and biryani. The Afghani biryani tends to use a lot of dry fruit and lesser amounts of meat, often cut into tiny pieces.
Biryani dishes are very popular in Mauritius especially at Hindu and Muslim weddings. It is also widely available at street food places.
Kapampangan cuisine of Philippines (often in Pampanga) features a special dish called Nasing Biringyi (chicken saffron rice), that is typically prepared only during special occasions such as weddings, family get-togethers or fiestas. It is not a staple diet as it is difficult to prepare compared to other usual dishes. Nasing Biringyi is similar to the Nasi Briyani dish of Malaysia in style and taste, but is also compared to a saffron-cooked version of Spanish Paella.
In the Cape Malay culture, a variation of biryani incorporates lentils as a key ingredient into the dish along with meat (usually goat meat or chicken). The dish may be seasoned with garam masala or a curry spice mix (though this is not authentic to the local style) and coloured, sometimes heavily, with turmeric.