Biryani (بریانی) is a Hindustani 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 states that it originated from birinj (Persian: برنج), the Persian word for rice. Another theory states that it is derived from biryan or beriyan (Persian: بریان), which means "to fry" or "to roast".
According to historian Lizzie Collingham, the modern biryani developed in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Empire (1526–1857) and is a mix 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. Another theory claims that the dish was prepared in India before the first Mughal emperor Babur conquered 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, who authored the book Biryani, 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
Biryani contains more gravy and is cooked for longer with condiments.
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), and is often cooked for longer, leaving the meat or vegetables more tender. Biryani is also cooked with additional dressings. Pratibha Karan states that while the terms are often applied arbitrarily, the main distinction is that a biryani consists of two layers of rice with a layer of meat (or vegetables) in the middle; whereas, 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(or vegetables) and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together. Pulao is a single-pot dish: meat(or vegetables) 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 the following 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 and the type of meat or vegetables used. Meat (of either chicken, goat, beef, lamb, prawn or fish) is the prime ingredient with rice. As is common in dishes of the Indian subcontinent, vegetables are also used when preparing biryani, which is known as vegetable biriyani. 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.
For kacchi biryani, raw marinated meat is layered with raw rice before being cooked together. It is also known as kacchi yeqni. It is typically cooked with goat meat. The dish is cooked layered with the meat and a dahi-based marinade at the bottom of the cooking pot. A layer of rice (usually basmati rice or chinigura rice) is placed over it. Potatoes are often added before adding the rice layer. The pot is usually sealed (typically with wheat dough) to allow it to cook in its own steam and it is not opened until it is ready to serve.
Tehari, tehri or tehari are various names for 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 the meat. In Hyderabad, it is famous as Kalyani biryani, in which buffalo or cow 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 flavor. In Kerala, beef biryani is well known. The Bhatkali biryani is a special biryani where the main ingredient is onion. Its variations include beef, goat, chicken, titar, egg, fish, crab, prawn and vegetable biryani.
There are many types of biryani, whose names are often based on their region of origin. For example, Sindhi biryani developed in the Sindh region of what is now Pakistan, and Hyderabadi biryani developed in the city of Hyderabad in South India. 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 communities where they originate, as they are usually the defining dishes of those communities. Cosmopolitanism has also led to the creation of these native versions to suit the tastes of others as well.
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 paid 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 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 the 17th century. They slowly spread to different regions and were brought to Bengal by 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 the biryani. It appealed to the taste buds of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. He was so pleased that he ordered that henceforth whenever biryani was cooked it should be with this vegetable.
The Calcutta biryani is much lighter on spices. The marinade uses primarily 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 compared to other styles of biryani. The rice is flavoured with ketaki water or rose water along with saffron to give it flavour and a light yellowish colour.
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 was first 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. One more variation is dum cooked Hyderabad veg biryani for vegetarians.
Dhakaiya Haji Biriyani
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, doi, peanuts, cream, raisins and a small amount of cheese (either from cows or buffalo). Haji biryani is a favourite among Bangladeshis living abroad. A recipe was handed down by the founder of one Dhaka restaurant to the next generation. Haji Mohammad Shahed claimed, "I have never changed anything, not even the amount of salt".
Dhakaiya Kacchi Biryani is accompanied by borhani, a salted mint drink made of yogurt, coriander, mint and salt.
The Delhi version of the biryani developed a unique local flavor as the Mughal kings shifted their political capital to the North Indian city of Delhi. Until the 1950s, most people cooked biryani in their home and rarely ate at eateries outside of their homes. Hence, restaurants primarily catered to travelers and merchants. Any region that saw more of these two classes of people nurtured more restaurants, and thus their own versions of biryani. This is the reason why most shops that sold biryani in Delhi, tended to be near mosques such as Jama Masjid (for travellers) 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. Nizamuddin biryani usually had little expensive meat and spices as it was primarily meant to be made in bulk for offering at the Nizamuddin Dargah shrine and thereafter to be distributed to devotees. A non-dum biryani, using many green chillies, popularized by the Babu Shahi Bawarchi shops located outside the National Sports Club in Delhi is informally called Babu Shahi biryani. Another version of Delhi biryani uses achaar (pickles) and is called achaari biryani.
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 and Sindhi cuisine. Sindhi biryani is prepared with meat and a mixture of basmati rice, vegetables and various spices. Sindhi Biryani is often served by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) on most of their international flights. A special version of Sindhi biryani sold by a shop in Karachi called the Students Center is popularly called "Students biryani."
The ingredients are chicken, spices and the specialty is the choice of rice called Khyma. Khyma rice is generally mixed with ghee. Although a large number 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 its 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.
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, chilies 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, and 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 specialty 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 chili 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 those in Thalassery, this biryani differs with lingering after-notes of mashed onions laced with garlic. A few chilies 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 orange colouring.
The Dindigul town of Tamil Nadu is noted for its biryani, which uses a little curd and lemon juice for a tangy taste.
The Bohri biryani, prepared by the Bohris is flavoured with many tomatoes. It is popular in Karachi.
Kalyani biryani is a typical biryani from the former state of Hyderabad Deccan. Also known as the 'poor man's' Hyderabadi biryani, Kalyani biryani is always made from small cubes of buffalo meat.
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. 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 when 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 Kalyani biryani to the local populace of Hyderabad state.
Degh Ki biryani
Degh ki biryani is a typical biryani made from small cubes of Beef or mutton. This biryani is famous in Parbhani and generally serves in marriages.
The meat is flavoured with ginger, garlic, red chili, cumin, garam masala, fried onion and Curd. This biryani is also known as kachay gosht ki biryani or the dum biryani, where the meat is marinated and cooked along with the rice. It is left on a slow fire or dum for a fragrant and aromatic flavor.
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.
This type of biryani is popular in the Palakkad and Coimbatore regions. This was most commonly prepared by Rawther families in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This type of biryani is cooked in a different style. Goat meat is most commonly used and it 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 (ဒံပေါက်), derived from the Persian term dum pukht, which refers to a slow oven cooking technique. Danbauk is a mainstay at festive events such as Thingyan, weddings and donation feasts. Given danbauk's South Asian origins, danbauk restaurants and chains have traditionally been owned by Muslims, but in recent decades Buddhist entrepreneurs have entered the market.
Featured ingredients include: cashew nuts, yogurt, raisins and peas, chicken, cloves, cinnamon, saffron and bay leaf cooked in long-grain rice. In danbauk, chicken specially seasoned with a danbaukmasala spice mix, is cooked with the rice.Danbauk is typically eaten with a number of side dishes, including a fresh salad of sliced onions, julienned cabbage, sliced cucumbers, fermented limes and lemons, fried dried chilies, and soup. In recent decades, danbauk restaurants have innovated variations, including "ambrosia" biryani (နတ်သုဓာထမင်း), which features dried fruits and buttered rice.
In Iraq, biryani (برياني: "biryani"), 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 much dry fruit such as raisins 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 the 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 of the Filipino 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. A version that has merged with the Filipino version of the Spanish paella is known as bringhe.
In the Cape Malay culture, a variation of biryani incorporates lentils as a key ingredient in 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.
Khao mhok ghai (Thai biryani with chicken)
Biryani in Thailand is commonly known as khao mhok (Thai: ข้าวหมก). It is commonly paired with chicken, beef or even fish and topped with fried garlic. The dish is common in Thai cuisine and often served with a green sour sauce.