Biryani (pronounced [bɪr.jaːniː]), also known as biriyani, biriani, birani or briyani, ¨spicy rice¨ is a South Asian mixed rice dish with its origins among the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. It is popular throughout the Indian subcontinent and among the diaspora from the region. It is made with spices, rice and meat (chicken, mutton, beef, prawn, or fish) or egg is also added.
Biryani is an Urdu 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 is that it originates from birinj, the Persian word for rice. Another is that it derives from biryan or beriyan, to fry or roast.
The exact origin of the dish is uncertain. In North India, different varieties of biryani developed in the Muslim centers of Delhi (Mughlai cuisine), Lucknow (Awadhi cuisine) and other small principalities. In South India, where rice is more widely used as a staple food, several distinct varieties of biryani emerged from Telangana (specifically Hyderabad), Tamil Nadu ( Ambur ), Kerala (Malabar), and Karnataka, where minority Muslim communities were present. Andhra is the only region of South India that does not have many native varieties of biryani. During the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736) in Persia, a dish called Berian Pilao (Nastaliq script: بریان پلو) was made with lamb or chicken, marinated overnight – with yogurt, herbs, spices, dried fruits like raisins, prunes or pomegranate seeds – and later cooked in a tannour oven. It was then served with steamed rice.
According to historian Lizzie Collingham, the modern biryani developed in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Empire (1526-1857), as a confluence 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. However, another theory claims that the dish was known in India before the first Mughal emperor Babur came to 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, 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
Pilaf or pulao, as it is known in the Indian subcontinent, is another mixed rice dish popular in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Opinions differ on the differences between pulao and biryani, and whether there is a difference between the two at all.
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), is often cooked for longer (hence yielding more tender meat or vegetables) and with additional condiments. Pratibha Karan states that while the terms are often applied arbitrarily, the main distinction is that a biryani comprises two layers of rice with a layer of meat (or vegetables) in the middle; the pulao is not layered.
Colleen Taylor Sen lists the following distinctions between biryani and pulao:
- Biryani is the primary dish in a meal, while the pulao is usually a secondary accompaniment to a larger meal
- In biryani, meat and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together. Pulao is a single-pot dish: meat 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 this as their primary difference: biryani has a stronger taste of curried rice due to a greater amount of spices.
Ingredients vary according to the type of meat used and the region the biryani is from. Meat (of either chicken, mutton, beef, prawn or fish)) is the prime ingredient with rice. As is common in dishes of the Indian subcontinent, some vegetables are also used when preparing biryani. Corn may be used depending on the season and availability. Navratan biryani tends to use sweeter richer ingredients such as cashew, kismis and fruits such as apples and pineapples.
The spices and condiments used in biryani may include ghee (clarified butter), nutmeg, mace, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, onions, tomatoes, and garlic. The premium varieties include saffron. In all biryani, the main ingredient that accompanies the spices is the chicken and mutton; special varieties also use beef and seafood. The dish may be served with dahi chutney or raita, korma, curry, a sour dish of aubergine (brinjal), boiled egg (optional), and salad.
- In the kacchi biryani, raw marinated meat is layered with raw rice before being cooked together. It is also known as kacchi yeqni. It is cooked typically with chicken and mutton but rarely with fish and prawns. The dish is cooked layered with the meat and the yogurt based marinade at the bottom of the cooking pot and the layer of rice (usually basmati rice or chinigura rice) placed over it. Potatoes are often added before adding the rice layer. The pot is usually sealed (typically with wheat dough) to allow cooking in its own steam and not opened until it is ready to serve.
- Tehari, Tehri or Tehari are variants on the name given to 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. Tehri became more popular during World War II, when meat prices increased substantially and potatoes became the popular substitute in biryani. It is not really considered to be part of the biryani family in its true sense.
- Beef biryani, as the name implies, uses beef as meat. In Hyderabad, it is famous as Kalyani biryani, in which beef (buffalo 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, dhania flavour. In Kerala, beef biryani is very famous. The Bhatkali biryani is a special biryani where main ingredient is onion. It was started by the Arab settlers who married the local Jain women. Its variants include beef, mutton, chicken, titar, egg, fish, crab, prawn and vegetable biryani.
List of varieties by region or culture in the Indian subcontinent
Depending on the region and the condiments available and popular in that region, there are different varieties of biryani. The variety often takes the name of the region (for example, Sindhi biryani developed in the Sindh region of what is now Pakistan, Hyderabadi biryani developed in the city of Hyderabad in South India, etc.). 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 community from where it comes, as it is usually the defining dish of that community. Cosmopolitanism has also created these native versions to suit the tastes of others as well.
- The Delhi version of the biryani developed with a unique local flavour as the Mughal kings shifted their political capital to the North Indian city of Delhi. Till the 1950s, most people cooked biryani in their house and rarely ate out. Hence, restaurants primarily catered to travellers and merchants, hence any region that saw more of these two classes of people nurtured more restaurants, and thus their own versions of biryani. As per Nakhwi, this was the reason why most shops historically selling biryani in Delhi tend to be near mosques such as Jama Masjid (for travelers) 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. The Nizamuddin biryani is usually sparse in the more expensive meat and spices as it was primarily meant to be made in bulk for offering at the Nizamuddin Dargah shrine and thereafter to distribute to devotees. A non-dum using a lot of green chillies variety of biryani popularized by the Babu Shahi Bawarchi shop located outside National Sports Club, 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 in the Pakistani cuisine and Sindhi cuisine. Sindhi biryani is prepared with meat and an amalgamation of Basmati rice, vegetables and various types of spices. Sindhi Biryani is often served by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in most of their international flights. A special version of Sindhi biryani sold by a shop in Karachi called "Students center" is popularly called "Students biryani".
- 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 had been appointed as the Governor of Deccan by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It is made with basmati rice, spices and goat. Popular variations use chicken instead of goat. There are various forms of Hyderabadi biryani. One such biryani is the kachay gosht ki biryani or the dum biryani, where the mutton is marinated and cooked along with the rice. It is left on slow fire or dum for a fragrant and aromatic flavour.
- Thalassery biryani, is the only variation of biryani found in the Indian state of Kerala. It is one of the many dishes of the Malabar Muslim community, and a very popular one at that.
- The ingredients are chicken, spices and the specialty is the choice of rice named Khyma. Khyma rice is generally mixed with ghee. Although a huge amount 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 the 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.
- Calcutta or Kolkata biryani evolved from the Lucknow style, when Awadh's last Nawab Wajid 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, potatoes and eggs.
- The Calcutta biryani is much lighter on spices. The marinate primarily uses nutmeg, cinnamon, mace along with cloves and cardamom in the yoghurt based marinade for the meat which is cooked separately from rice. This combination of spices gives it a distinct flavour as compared to other styles of biryani. The rice is flavoured with ketaki water or rose water along with saffron to give it flavour and light yellowish colour.
- Ambur/Vaniyambadi biryani is a type of biryani cooked in neighboring towns of Ambur & Vaniyambadi in the Vellore district in the north-eastern part of Tamil Nadu, which has a high Muslim population. It was introduced by the Nawabs of Arcot who once ruled the place.
- 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, chillies 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, smells of spices and ghee. It is best taken with nenju elumbu kuzhambu, a spicy and tangy mutton gravy. The podi kozhi is usually topped with fried onions and curry leaves.
- This is an integral part of the Navayath cuisine and a speciality 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 chilli 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 the ones in Thalassery and Kozhikode, this biryani differs with lingering after-notes of mashed onions laced with garlic, and a few chillies 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, yogurt, 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 of the orange colouring.
- The Dindigul town of Tamil Nadu is noted for its biryani, which uses a little curd and lemon juice to get a tangy taste.
- The Bohri biryani, prepared by the Bohris is flavoured with a lot of tomatoes. It is very popular in Karachi.
- Kalyani biryani is a typical biryani from old state of Hyderabad. Also known as the 'poor man's' Hyderabadi biryani, the Kalyani biryani is always made from small cubes of buffalo meat.
- The meat is flavoured with ginger, garlic, turmeric, red chili, cumin, coriander powder, lots of onion and tomato. It is first cooked as a thick curry and then cooked along with rice. Then given dum (the Indian method of steaming in a covered pot).
- The Kalyani biryani is supposed to have originated in the 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. The 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 in which 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 the Kalyani biryani to the local populace of Hyderabad state.
- 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 a lot of dry fruit and lesser amounts of meat, often cut into tiny pieces.
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.
- The type of biriyani popular in region around palakkad & Coimbatore regions. This was most commonly prepared by rawther family in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This type of biriyani is cooked in a different style.Mutton is most commonly used in this type of biriyani. The biryani is entirely different from malabar biryani.
Varieties 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, from Persian dum pukht. Featured ingredients include cashew nuts, yogurt, raisins and peas, chicken, cloves, cinnamon, saffron and bay leaf. In Burmese biryani, the chicken is cooked with the rice. biryani is also eaten with a salad of sliced onions and cucumber.
Iraq and Middle East (Arab nations)
One form of "Arabic" biryani is the Iraqi preparation (برياني: "biryani"), where the rice is usually saffron-based with chicken usually being the meat or poultry of choice. 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).
During the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736), a dish called Berian (Nastaliq script: بریان پلو) was made with lamb or chicken, marinated overnight – with yogurt, herbs, spices, dried fruits like raisins, prunes or pomegranate seeds – and later cooked in a tannour oven. It was then served with steamed rice.
Nasi kebuli is an Indonesian spicy steamed rice dish cooked in goat broth, milk and ghee. Nasi kebuli is descended from Kabuli Palaw which is an Afghani rice dish, similar to biryani served in the Indian subcontinent.
Singapore and Malaysia
Nasi Briyani dishes are very popular in Malaysia and Singapore. As an important part of Malaysian Indian cuisine, they are popularized through Mamak stalls, hawker centres, food courts as well as fine dining restaurants.
Mutton Briyani at Little India, Singapore
Kapampangan cuisine of 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 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, but is also compared to a saffron-cooked version of Spanish Paella.
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- Media related to Biryani at Wikimedia Commons
- Biryani at Wikibook Cookbooks