Weekend Mood: Stop for the biryani!

We pause our regular programming for some irresistible stuff

Shantanu Ghosh serves you some biryani…and how (via Desipundit).

Biryani is a fragrant rice dish made from a mixture of spices, long-grained Basmati rice, meat and yogurt. The name is derived from the Farsi word birian. Based on the name, and the cooking style (dum, explained later), it appears that the dish originated in Persia or Arabia. While some think it came from Persia via Afghanistan to north India, others think it was brought by the Arab traders via the Arabian Sea to Calicut, which had maritime trade with West Asia.
Picture Credit: Vijay Pandey

Biryani picture by Vijay Pandey.

Besides the historical facts, the biryani’s story gets a bit spiced up with legends. One has it that Timor ‘the Lame’ brought it down from Kazakhstan via Afghanistan to north India. According to another fable, Mumtaz Mahal created this dish as a wholesome meal to feed the Mughal emperor’s army. From the Mughals, the biryani spread to the Nizam’s kitchens in Hyderabad, as it did to Awadh (now Lucknow) and Calcutta.

When Aurangzeb installed the Nawab of Arcot to oversee Aaru Kaadu region south of Hyderabad, he unwittingly led to the creation of the Arcot biryani. The biryani also spread to Mysore thanks to Tipu Sultan. Needless to say it was a royal dish of the nawabs and nizams. These worthies hired vegetarian Hindus as bookkeepers, which led to the creation of the tahiri biryani (a vegetarian version).

To me ‘authentic’ biryani, and the one I crave the most, is the dum-pukht variety with Hyderabadi or Awadhi influence. Dum means steam and dum pukht literally means to choke off the steam. The food is placed in a pot, usually made of clay, and dough is used to create a tight seal to prevent steam from escaping. The food is slowly cooked in its own juices and steam, allowing herbs and spices to fully infuse the meat or rice, preserving the nutritional elements at the same time. In the best biryanis, grains of rice are well-cooked yet do not stick to one another. The meat, usually on the shank, is soft, well marinated and enhances the heady aroma of Basmati and the spices. I like my biryanis best with raita, onion rings and mint chutney. [Eat the rest of it at Traveller’s Tales]

13 thoughts on “Weekend Mood: Stop for the biryani!”

  1. By the way, the Arcot biryani is unjustly underrated. It’s spicier, heavier and lacks the nuance and the sophistication of the Hyderabadi variety, but is a more fitting accompaniment to Indian Made Foreign Liquor than its better-dressed cousin.

  2. Another (urban?) legend I heard is that Aurangazeb wanted to give Shahjahan, the prisoner some food with all nutrients to sustain life but without taste. The chefs boiled rice with vegetables and meat to create a tasteless concoction. And when Aurangazeb had them add spices to it, it became the biriyani.

  3. As Gautam Buddha told Desires are symptoms of Ignorance which is the cause behind Universal suffering.

    Buddham Sharnam Gacchami…

  4. While Shantanu has done well to recommend fine-dining restaurants like Dum Pukht and Sigree, I’d say that the real treasures are the smaller, sometimes hole-in-the-wall joints.

  5. Gaurav,

    That was Buddha. He lived before they invented biryani. So we can’t blame him. This blogger says that the best way to handle desire and temptation is to yield.

  6. Nitin, I agree with the hole in wall joints but they are made the same way. Although I like my mom’s biryani a lot, one the best place to eat biryani in Hyderabad is small place outside Nampalli Station (HYD main railway station) that is open late into the night. After a long night, of say partying, it’s haven to chow down some of the hot biryani at 2am.

    I can still remember a Muslim gentleman making biryani exactly the way Shantanu describes in our house on a temporary wood stove – clay pot and dough seal with lot of ghosh and saffron for a major celebration at our house. That was a memorable dinner just because of the biryani.

  7. Nitin – agree with you on the Awadhi Biryani (Dum Pukht);
    on a brief visit to Delhi a few years ago, we had dinner at the Maurya Sheraton – Dum Pukht. Ofcourse this restaurant gets serious step child treatment consider it shares the premises with “Bukhara” (which Clinton likes). With a two hour wait at Bukhara we were directed to DumPukht (in the basement and no wait). The maitre’d described the dum pukht biryani and I was sold. OMG! what a joy to savor.
    I had felt the chef has put excessive ghee in the biryani; but the waiter corrected me, said the rice gets cooked in the marrow of the lamb bones (yakni ?). Delicious!

    If there are any hole in the wall places in Mumbai serving such cuisine, please let us know. I would like to try it during our Nov/Dec visit.

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