“Long grained fragrant rice, tempered with spices and cooked over a slow ,low fire for long periods of time, with tenderized meat and vegetables, served with a cooling accompaniment of curd raita”. The beginning of my love story is worded thus. This was a menu description of the biriyani that prompted the foodie family of mine to start salivating and promptly order this iconic dish! We haven’t stopped loving this culinary treat ever since. Please also excuse me because I tend to call biriyani as biriyani with an extra “i”, like every south Indian who is so hopelessly in love with this rice dish.
The history of biriyani is extremely interesting. While it is largely attributed to the Persian influence, there are notes of historians that claim that the armies of South india would eat a dish called “oon sooru” loosely translated lunch meal, for their meals. This was rice tempered with peppercorns, bayleaf and aromatic spices cooked in meat stock with liberal amounts of meat added to give the much-needed strength and energy to the soldiers for the war ahead. There is also an attribution that Mumtaz mahal (of the Taj mahal fame) ordered her cooks to make a dish of rice and meat which was nourishing for her army because they looked under nourished!
Biriyani has been largely a dish served to the royal family in other places. The Most famous biriyanis – Lucknawi and the Hyderabadi have been credited to the nawabs of the respective regions. When the Nawabs of Hyderabad were displaced and re-established themselves in Kolkata or in Tamil Nadu, it gave birth to the Kolkata biriyani and the Arcot biriyani which are path bringers in their own rights!
To me, there are 2 major types of biriyani – Kucchi Biriyani and Pukki Biriyani. Kucchi is the one where meat and rice are cooked as one in a thick bottomed pot with all the spices so that the cooking process itself marries the flavors to create magic. In the Pukki version, the meat and rice are cooked separately and finished in a pot. This ensures that the individual tastes are kept constant and distinct.
To make the perfect biriyani, kucchi or pukki, the blend of spices, technique and precise measurements of the ingredients are a must. The quality of the ingredients play a major role also. Depending upon where you try the biriyani, this could differ vastly. North India favours the long-grained basmati rice now, earlier it would be the long grained brown rice. Southern parts of the country have generally used the local rice like kaima, jeerakashala, kaal bhaat or the seeraga samba rice. The puritan would swear that mixing the technique and rice type is blasphemy!
The other ingredients also play a very important role, the hidden potato in the Kolkata biriyani has surprised many! Coastal regions have prawns and other seafood that are added, the Mughlai version has mutton that is so tender, it melts in your mouth and chicken biriyanis are now common across the country.
The Great Indian Food Trip – The South Indian Biryani Trail
The Arab traders are credited with bringing the biryani to the south of India. Each state has multiple versions of this magical dish. We hope to try the following and decide which is the king of the ring!!!!
Kerala – Calicut or Thalasseri Biryani
The Calicut biriyani or the Thalasseri biriyani is part of the Malabar Muslim community heritage. This version of biriyani is generally cooked using the Kaima or Khyma rice and the Dum method. This pukki biriyani has a lot of spices added but very little chilli powder. Cooked with Ghee and finished off with cashews fried in ghee the taste stays with you for a long time. The Beef version of the biriyani is specially very famous, other varieties are mutton, egg , fish and vegetables.
Karnataka – Bhatkali Biryani
The Bhatkali biriyani – this is the biriyani I most look forward to trying! The not so famous biriyani is cooked oil less! Very similar to the Malabar biriyanis, this pukka biriyani has an overwhelming amount of onions and the spices, the chicken is first cooked in a green chilli and onion paste with liberal amounts of curry leaves to add a specific flavor. The rice is cooked separately and layered on top of the meat. Visually, the biriyani looks white! Overwhelmingly so, with streaks of orange on it and would taste bland as its just plain rice, but dig in with your fingers and mix a bit of the gravy at the bottom and you are left with a dance of flavours in your mouth. Yup, this is one that we cannot miss!
Tamil Nadu – Dindigul, Chettinad and Ambur
Should be christened the land of the biriyanis, for the sheer varieties! Dindigul biriyani which uses lemon juice and curd to give a tangy taste to the rice to Chettinad biriyani which has a fragrant spicy smell to the light Ambur biryani which uses curd as a gravy base and copious amount of tomatoes for the tanginess, each of them are different and equally good! We are going to be stuffed in Chennai!
Andhra / Telangana – Hyderabadi and Kalyani Biriyani
Well, lets just call it the Hyderabadi biriyani for ease of name! undoubtedly the most famous of the south Indian varieties, the most recognizable biriyani, has stiff competition from another local- the Kalyani biriyani. The major difference is the rice used and the way its spices are cooked before mixing it with the rice and finished off using the Dum method.
All in all, this is one trip that I hope to exercise no restraint on eating! My stomach muscles are being worked upon and I, for sure am looking forward to a gastronomic experience par none in the first edition of the Great Indian Food Trip!
Bon Appetit and go #AageSeRight