The following is an excerpt from my 3 part article on Biryani. (The Biryani Chronicles)
Hyderabad (Part 1)
What unities religiously, ethnically and linguistically diverse 1.2 billion Indians may be a wonder, but unique consensus seems to have been struck by a gastronomically cementing factor. The Biryani.
The etymological origin of “Biryani” is the Persian “beryan” or “roasted”. Funnily, my dad, a Biryani fanatic who once visited Iran, found no awareness of the dish in the supposed land of its birth. What they do have is a cousin – the “pilau” (also known as “pilaf”) – where parboiled rice is steamed and crusted before bringing on the meat, nuts and spices.
The pilau is known as the “pulao” in India – quite a delicacy but categorized slightly lower in the pecking order. In Delhi, which I consider “my” city because I grew in its uniquely polyglot environment, the pulao and the biryani come with vegetarian versions as well.
Almost like Escoffier’s classification of the mother sauces, the original Biryani, now, has an endless list of “derivatives”, ranging from “Vegetarian Biryani” to “Seafood Biryani”. But, truth be told, the Biryani is a meat dish, preferably using goat (lamb is different) but chicken and beef are also allowed. Everything else, sadly, isn’t strictly authentic.
It cannot be denied that the Biryani is essentially a Muslim dish, brought to northern India by waves of conquerors from central Asia between the tenth and seventeenth centuries. In the hoary past, each Muslim household was believed to have held secret recipes which passed from father to son (or mother to daughter-in-law) through the great oral tradition. The aggregates of these recipes thrive today as the defining identity of each city. Unbelievable but true, folks attach the “Biryani identity” of each city to its brand image.
Every state in India has its own version of Biryani, which is suited to suit local taste. I doubt I’ll be able to explain every one of them individually. However, being the Biryani aficionado that I am, I was able to focus on 3 cities which are synonymous with this dish. “Biryani Chronicles” is my account of what I believe are three different types, famous in 3 different cities. I chose these varieties based on popularity and authenticity.
My first stop is Hyderabad, a city founded by Muslim invaders in the 16th century.
Hyderabadi Biryani blends two distinct (and iconic) techniques. “Kachhi” method, where the meat is mixed with spices and marinated overnight, before tumbled into yogurt prior to cooking. The raw meat and rice are layered together using the “Dum” method which is enhanced when the vessel is sealed off with wheat dough. This method is tricky and calls for seasoned hands as Murphy’s Law (Anything that can go wrong will go wrong) hangs like a sword over the whole affair . Traditionally, this method is said to have been introduced in Hyderabad.
Hyderabadi Biryani is white in colour and isn’t supposed to be spicy. Another variety, the localized Andhra Biryani is yellow or red. It contains exclusive ingredients such as curry leaves and chilly. This isn’t a Hyderabadi Biryani.
‘Paradise Biryani House’ sells what Hyderabadis casually refer to as “Paradise Biryani”. It’s got an altogether out-of–the-world feel, most people say. Thousands flock to this eatery each day, most to return with “parcels” or “takeouts” for their families back home.
Biryani more serves its purpose. This dish unites families, communities and people all over the country.