Thursday, August 16, 2007

Biryani Stories

Hyderabad has a rich culinary history inspired by Mughlai cooking that has evolved for over hundreds of years. Famous for its hot and spicy cuisine, Hyderabad is never complete without a taste of the Shahi Dastarkhan. Note: Hyderabad picture by Crazymaq

HyderabadThe Dastarkhan, or the dining place where the food is served and eaten is normally a low chowki (table) with mattresses and bolsters that provide seating in the traditional Indian style. Traditional delicacies of Hyderabad that have been inherited from the Nizams are predominantly meat-based and cooked with a liberal use of exotic spices. Hyderabadi cuisine features key flavors of coconut, tamarind, peanuts and sesame seeds and sometimes even fresh fruit.

The Shahi Dastarkhan includes such mouth-watering delicacies as Osmani Murg Korma, Paneer Aur Ananas Ka Korma, Mirchi Ka Salaan, and the well-known Nahari, a dish is made from lamb trotters. However, the one dish that has been written about, even by travellers during the 18th century who visited this city, is the aromatic Biryani.

And so to celebrate my 100th blog post, let me serve some (virtual) biryani to readers! Note: Biryani picture by Vijay Pandey.

BiryaniBiryani 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.

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.

BiryaniWhen 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).

Note: Biryani picture by Karan V.

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.

Hyderabadi biryani is traditionally made with uncooked, marinated lamb (kacche gosht). It is layered at the bottom of a pan with rice in various stages of 'doneness' -- the topmost is more pre-cooked than the rice nearest the meat which is only 25 percent cooked.The point is to have perfectly cooked meat with flavourful rice, preferably in the same dish, although there are some versions of biryani in which the two ingredients are browned and cooked separately.

The Lucknowi biryani is made from stock, and not water. The meat is first sauteed and then cooked separately. The rice is later cooked in the same stock.This precludes the concept of Kachhe Ghosht ke biryani. Like someone described very aptly, while Hyderabadi biryani has top notes and middle notes, Lucknowi biryani owes its success to a homogenous blend of spices, so that no single one predominates.

Charminar HyderabadThere is an interesting story to the biryani from Calcutta (or Kolkata as the city is known today). When cooks from the Nawab's kitchen fled to Kolkata in 1857, they arrived here with their biryani recipes which then evolved to create its own distinct identity. Kolkata biryani is far spicier than its other cousins, and distinguishes itself by its use of potatoes which absorbs the stock and spices during the cooking process. However, robustness rather than delicacy defines this biryani.

Note: Charminar, Hyderabad picture by Geetesh Bajaj.

What is less known are the southern cousins of the biryani. Vishy Shenoy, who has cronicled the spread of the biryani, describes the many varieties available:

The fish and prawn Biryani which is unique to Kerala. In Tamil Nadu, you have the Ranipet Biryani and the Dindigul Curry Biryani (which was painstakingly prepared for President Bill Clinton when he visited India) from the Erode and Tirupur area. The Kangayam Catering College has documented and archived the Dindigul Biryani. "These varieties use a shorter grain of rice," he says.

On the Western Coast, you have the Calicut Biryani and the Bhatkali Biryani, the recipe for which has come through the spice route and it has a Yemeni/Irani flavour. The North-West Frontier offers the Sindhi Biryani and the Kutchi Biryani, which is also called the Memoni Biryani. Kashmiris use asafoetida in Biryani, which is unique, and all the ingredients are marinated overnight.

For those who wish to taste the best biryani in Delhi, I recommend Dum Pukht at The Maurya for a great experience. For those in Pune, Sigree is the best option. For the really adventurous foodie, there are many good restaurants and biryani shops located in the winding gullies (alleys) of Lucknow, Kolkata, Delhi and Hyderabad. Check with a local; you won't find these places listed anywhere else.

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54 comments:

Vishal Pipraiya said...

In Pune, I adore the vegetarian biryani at Koyla. They have two branches, one on F.C.Road and the other in Koregaon Park. Also, the biryani is served in the same dum phukt style that you mentioned of choking the steam by covering the container with dough

sank said...

Biryani is my favorite Indian dish, possibly one of the all time favorites!

Prakriti said...

I am a sucker for biryanis. There used to be this amazing place in Bangalore called Biryani Merchant, which would serve all the above varieties of biryanis that you mention, as well as some more local variants... ah I just read Vishy's article.
It was Vishy's restaurant (the article is dated 2004), and it sadly shut down.

By the way, thanks for the post. I still have to spend another tantalizing 2 hours before lunch.

P2C2U said...

It is so difficult to find a good biryani. I'm exiled in China and I have no hope of getting any for another one year!

I loved reading this though.

Rohit said...

A welcome helping of info on biryanis. Now I know which biryani to try where...
Also, cheers on 100th post!

Jitesh said...

Wow - I did not know Biryani had so many incarnations!

deepdowne said...

such a yummy post!
thanks for gathering all the valuable biriyani information in one place, and congrats!
added to my favourites already.

Shantanu said...

@vishal: I have been to Koyla but don't remember trying their Biryani; will do that the next time I am in that restaurant. For those who haven't visited Koyla, they specialize in Hyderabadi cuisine.

@sank: If you visit India, I will remember that!

@prakriti: Interesting! Thanks for visiting.

@p2c2u: Exiled, haha! But I loved the local food in China when I was in Beijing.

@rohit: Thanks!

@jitesh: Yup. Very much like kababs.

@deepdowne: Thank you!

Sandeepa(Bong Mom's CookBook/DesiMomzClub) said...

Congrats Shantanu...on the 100th post...your blog is a pleasure to visit, not to mention how hungry it makes me.

Baje etka "ghaas-foos" salad kheyechi lunch e ar ei shob biryani dekhe pet gur gur korche :)

Shantanu said...

@sandeepa: Thanks. Re: "ghaas-foos" (i.e, vegetarian stuff, for those who do not understand Bengali), ha ha, you have my sympathies!

Mahesh Narkar said...

Shantanu,
Congratulations on your "century" and here's looking to more posts.
What an effective post to celebrate your 100 milestone.. All I can say is I resonate Sandeepa's comment completely. With Shravan going on and no meat in sight for at least another month, I can only drool at the great description and MUST (unfortunately) suppress my primordial urge to run off to the nearest biryani place.

dorischua said...

Thanks for dropping by my homeofficewomen.com blog. I have grown to like briyani rice... as long as the curry is not too spicy :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Shantanu,

Really nice post!! Indians unfortunately are not known for keeping records and doing research about their own cultures & identities but you have done a great job.

Shantanu said...

@mahesh: Thank you! And my sympathies! :)

@dorischua: Thanks for visiting.

@anon: Thank you!

HAREKRISHNAJI said...

I fail to understand, what is more tasty and delicious ? The Biryani or the blog on Biryani !

My father was in Hyderabad for more than one month for tranning and he stayed in Taj. On the way back home he carried Hyderabdi Biryani and Khubani ka Mittha for us. After so many years I still remember the incidence and the taste.

Shantanu said...

@harekrishnaji: Thank You! Yeah, Khubani Ka Meetha is another very unique Hyderabadi dessert. Probably will do a post on desserts some time.

anon said...

Mouth watering post! Posted this at Charchaa

Shantanu said...

@anon: Thanks! Hadn't heard of Charchaa before. 'Seems like a 'Desi' version of Digg.

Assem said...

Interesting information here on the biryani. I love both biryani & history ;)

Anonymous said...

I must say that the Kolkata Biriyani (aminia, shiraaz, etc) are far far better than the Hyderabadi biriyani which is awful and overcooked in south indian spice...since I had both for years..

the Kolkata biriyani with aloo and soft lamb is simply too good..but sadly so less publicity..

however you wil get it in Lazeez, Koramangala, Bangalore in south india

Shantanu said...

@anon: Thanks for the list of restaurants. Useful info for readers who want to try Kolkata biryani.

zahid said...

This is the most informative biryani article to date... I am a biryani lover and I had no idea that it came from Persia.. I always felt that Indians invented it coz we use so many spices to make this amazing tasting dish.. boy I was wrong!

Shantanu said...

@zahid: Welcome to my blog! Yes, the history of my favorite food has been fascinating to explore. And full of surprises.

Anonymous said...

Nahari is not made from lamb trotters. The lamb trotter soup is called Paya.

-Jyoti.

Shantanu said...

@jyoti: Actually nahari is made of lamb trotters too (here's a recipe for you).

Anonymous said...

You might also want to try the Dum Biryani at Baghban in Camp. The best biryani I've ever had in Pune.


--------
Abhisek

Joey said...

Gr8 experiences shantanu, u seem to enjoy travelling and exploring the world around. We are looking for someone like you. We are from NDTV. Can u call us on 09899777106 before Tuesday, 13th May 2008. We would like to call you as a guest on our show on travel show.

Publicis said...

Kolkata is best for tstebuds, Apart from Aminia & Shiraz you can also try biryani from Royal, which is at M.G. Road and also a mughlai restuarant.
However, Aminia is too good, for who wants to eat some very nice biryani.
Try and enjoy!!! Its name only makes me hungry

Sinu Vijayan said...

nice to read of all the biriyani
The best i ever had was at delhi durbar in colaba Mumbai.I still remember the taste after 7 long years.

Anonymous said...

Hi SG,
A very informative post. Only knew desserts and fish as Bengali cuisine...never biryani. I have stayed in Hyderabad for a few years. The first time I dined out there, I was taken aback by the huge servings. Paradise in Secunderabad is famous for biryani. My friends loved it though I found veg version appalling...may be wrong place for me. North Indian is great at Angeethi and Ohri's. Both are not expensive. For Chinese it is only Mainland China. Dadu's is famous for khubani ka meetha. Another popular dessert there is double ka meetha....talking of desserts...I keenly look forward to a post on Bengali desserts. I am a big fan and have probably had all the varieties of sweets available in CR Park, Delhi.

Shantanu said...

@anon: Thanks for the info.

@joey: I am flattered. But was travelling in the US when you left the comment. Thanks anyway.

@publicis: Thanks for the info. I have actually tried some of these places, but a long time ago.

@sinu: Really? Cool!

@anon: Well, biryani was an import from the Awadhis who made Calcutta their home for a period of time.

AChatterjee said...

*****QUOTE
Anonymous said...

I must say that the Kolkata Biriyani (aminia, shiraaz, etc) are far far better than the Hyderabadi biriyani which is awful and overcooked in south indian spice...since I had both for years..

the Kolkata biriyani with aloo and soft lamb is simply too good..but sadly so less publicity..

however you wil get it in Lazeez, Koramangala, Bangalore in south india
1:44 PM IST ********
Anonymous, I beg to differ....I am Bengali too, living in Kolkata, but have had the good fortune of staying in the city which makes the best biryani in the world.....period! For starters, please save us all by spelling *biryani* correctly......
Overcooked???lol, try out the kachhe murgh ki Biryani, and then tell me....ppl in Hyderbad actually have an authentic side dish to go along just with that biryani...it called Mirchi Ka saalan...Probably, you just knew it was raita.....how commonplace! This biryani uses special amounts of fresh elaichi, clove, and cinnamon powders to give it that awsome knock-ur-sox-off aroma, unlike MOST other Indian biryanis, which rely on unflattering amounts of Kewra Water, Rose Water, and sweet attar!!!!A good cook will put simple things in his dish, and leave them to do their rest....not rely on dollops of artificial perfumery.....
And you said, it uses south indian spices.....how terribly ignorant....no `south indian spice`, whatever that may include, goes into the making of Kachhe Gosht Ki Biryani......
Lastly, I dont see any reason why biryani should include potatoes(two starch sources in a single dish????what gives????)(potatoes do justice only to our fave bengali Khichuri, right?)
i hope I have made my point clear, without sounding rude....you should opinionate based on facts....not what you think so......Though to satisfy my occassional itch, I will often knock at the doors of the neighborhood Aminia Store, I will be always miles away from authentic biryani(read: kacche Gosht ki Biryani, served with the sinfully rich Mirch ka Saalan)
ciao

Shekhar Joshi said...

Very good post. The scipt and the pictures, mouthwatering.
I had an opportunity to try an really amazing Dum Briyani while I stayed at a Hotel in Bangalore. The place called "Nawab" is a Lucknavi/North Indian restaurant which is a part of that Hotel located near Race course. It also has some Hyderabadi dishes including the Mutton Biryani. It was one of the best Dum Biryani I ever had, a bit spicy , but just the way I like it.

I went to the same place the next day and asked for it again. Waiter thought I am ready for a bit adventure, suggested me to go for "Khargosh ki Biryani" cooked the same way. However, I decided to stay more conventional and had the Mutton Biryani again.

The other place I had a good Dum Mutton Biryani was at a restaurant at Hotel Balwas in Indore. The steaming clay pot of Biryani was served and the dough removed infront of my eyes. It was good , a bit different than the one I had at Bangalore but was equally delicious.

Anonymous said...

AChatterjee said...
*****QUOTE
Anonymous said...

I must say that the Kolkata Biriyani (aminia, shiraaz, etc) are far far better than the Hyderabadi biriyani which is awful and overcooked in south indian spice...since I had both for years..

the Kolkata biriyani with aloo and soft lamb is simply too good..but sadly so less publicity..

however you wil get it in Lazeez, Koramangala, Bangalore in south india
1:44 PM IST ********
Anonymous, I beg to differ....I am Bengali too, living in Kolkata, but have had the good fortune of staying in the city which makes the best biryani in the world.....period!I am amazed that even after having Aminia Biryani (thnks for the spelling tho!) u find the hyderabadi version good. I do kno what mirchi ka salan and Raita is, as I have been staying here for a couple of years now and have to live with this crap for some more time. It tastes like some overspiced unimaginative concoction of spices just for the sake of it...more like a potion or cure for cough and cold..

The aloo in Kolkata biryani tastes real good and soft & oily, with "flavour" being of primary importance rather than a mixture of excessive spices and curry leaves and tamarind in the Hyderabadi version. If Kolkata biryani is "flavour of zaffran and dalda", Hyd Biryani is "Mindless mix of spices".

Sorry to say your culinary tastes are indeed appaling and u are more of a southerner.

Anna said...

I just came across this wonderful entry on this blog. I would like to share the recipe for Hyderabadi Kache Gosht Ki Briyani:

http://www.worldfamouscookingrecipes.com/2008/12/indian/hyderabadi-kachche-gosht-ki-biryani/

- Anna

hiren said...

hello shantanu
really liked your pieces. if ever u plan to occasionally write for a mag, do drop me a line.

shantanughosh said...

@shekhar, achatterjee, suman, hiren: Thank you for sharing your opinions and comments here!

Ishrath said...

Khobani ka Meetha?
Here it is:
http://www.wanderingmist.com/good-food-kitchen/khobani-ka-meetha-hyderabadi-dessert-made-with-dried-apricots/

btw, excellent post/ blog and thanks for taking me down the memory lane :)

Vikram Karve said...

Very Informative.
Olympia on Colaba Causeway Mumbai is my favourite place for Biryani

Shantanu said...

@Ishrath: Thank you! Appreciate the comments.

@Vikram: Haven't really tried the smaller places in Mumbai yet. Did have some kababs at Bade Miyan's behind the Taj once...

Anonymous said...

The best biryani one could ever have is 'Paradise Biryani' of Hyderabad. Worth a try.

Hirsute Hippo said...

Shantanu, I beg to differ in one aspect. The Kolkata Biryani is actually one of the milder variants available in India.

True Hyderabadi biryani, prepared on the kacche dum is the spicy stuff that will blow you out with its heat. Another variant, the Andhra biryani is even spicier, and is cooked on a pukka dum, while the meat pieces are fried in the Andhra style.

As for all the heathens who recommend Paradise (Secunderabad), try Shadaab in Old Hyderabad. Only tourists partake in the travesty known as Paradise biryani. And while you're at it, always call for double masala.

Bis said...

Marvellous post! What we need is a "Palace of Biryani", perhaps in Hyderabad, Lucknow, Shahjahanbad or Agra, serving ALL of the known variants of biryani and engaged in fertile experimentation to create new ones! :-)

Shantanu said...

@Anon: Paradise seems to the popular spot in town, even though some locals would disagree about it being the best.

@Hirsute Hippo: Thanks for you comments. And there you go on Paradise... :)

@Bis: Yup, that would be great...would it not?

Anonymous said...

Nomoshkar Shantu...Grow up...and please don't spread this false info that BIRYANI is foreign in origin...i'll explain...
INDIA gave the world 'RICE' and MEAT eating has been a part and parcel of Hindus since ancient times...The muslims who are outsiders who came to India and took fancy of it...and u expect rice grows in Persia or in Saudi Arabia or somewhere in Central Asia...and please do remember that INDIA gave the world RICE...only the muslims have slightly modified it and gave the name as BIRYANI...
i am researching in making a new type of biryani soon it will make waves...

sudhirkumar said...

Do try Pride of Hyderabad on Synagogue street, camp in Pune.

Parikshit Vilekar said...

Hey Shantanu,
Me & my wife run a home catering service in Pune wherein we specialize in Hyd. Kacche Gosht/Murgh ki Biryani. Would love it if you taste it sometime.
Do call on 9175559810; visit our website here: https://sites.google.com/site/clovescatering/
-Parikshit

Shantanu said...

@anon: Thanks for leaving your thoughts here.

@sudhirkumar: Heard of this one; haven't tried yet. Thanks.

@Parikshit: Thanks. Will give you a call sometime.

pranav said...

I just want to say... I love biryanis and I love this article.

Shantanu said...

@pranav: Thanks for the comment.

Rajesh "P" Rao said...

Nomoshkar Shantu it's me again..!!
some more info...as it said that India gave the world Rice and mixing rice with Veggies and Meat is age old practice of Indians...and it should also be noted that since time immemorial the world's civilizations have flocked to India for it's Valuable SPICES as what's Biryani without SPICES...
Ever heard Sausage Biryani and Porridge Biryani...soon it's coming....Happy Eating....!!!!

Priya's Feast said...

Its great to read ur blog...enjoyed all the popular posts in sidebar...Really wonderful writeup..God bless..I am glad to follow you..

Shantanu said...

@Rajesh: Thanks for sharing.

@Priya: Welcome to my blog! Glad you found it interesting.

Ram Khan said...

I love Biryani!!!!!!!