Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Biryani: The Quintessential Indian Dish With a Global Presence

Chicken biryani has a special throne in the palace of Indian cuisine. No wonder then that chicken biryani was actually the most searched Indian food globally in 2019.

According to “A study by SEMrush found that chicken biryani had an average of 4.56 lakh [456,000] searches each month.”

The world-famous rice dish has played ambassador to Indian cuisine in Michelin-star restaurants all over the world. One of the prime reasons for this is because it’s so many things at the same time. It’s very simple and has basic ingredients, yet it requires specific subtle conditions to achieve a perfect result.

A good biryani has to have just the right degree of softness to the rice, the meat has to be tender to a specific degree, and the spices have to be blended and applied in just the right way to elicit that “yum” factor. This is a science perfected over centuries of practice through generations of master artisans.

The Mughal factor

Over the centuries, India had been invaded by the Persians, Afghans, and Turks. Along with their culture, their cuisine left a big impression on India. Mughals, during their conquest of India from around the 15th to the 19th centuries, took cooking to a whole new level. This led to a delicious array of dishes being introduced, such as the kebab, pilaf, and of course, biryani.

Though Mughals do take full credit for biryani, there are references to similar rice-and-meat dishes being doled out in South India. One such dish is “Oon Soru,” the ingredients of which included rice, meat, ghee, coriander, bay leaf, pepper, and turmeric. More than a feasting dish, the Oon Soru was utilized specifically to feed military personnel to meet their high nutritional needs.

(Image: Breville USA via flickr CC BY 2.0 )
The proper blend of spices is essential to a good biryani. (Image: Breville USA via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

As Mughals traveled throughout India, each province developed their own version of the Mughal cuisine. Biryani was an instant hit everywhere. There is Awadhi biryani, Hyderabadi biryani, Sindhi Memon biryani, the Bohri, and the Moplah style from Kerala, to name a few.

The traditional Mughal biryani is made from goat meat. Newer versions of the recipe tend to use chicken and prawns instead. There are even vegetable versions that cater to die-hard vegetarians. There is no stopping the level of creativity that goes into the making of biryani, but for the stickler for an authentic taste, the closer it stays to tradition, the better the experience.

“Biriyani” comes from the Persian “birian,” which translates as “fried prior to cooking.” There is no dearth of origin stories for biryani in India. According to one of them, the queen of Shah Jahan, named Mumtaz Mahal, found the soldiers in the army barracks were lacking in nutrition so she advised the chef to create a dish that balanced out that deficit. This turned out to be biryani.

Moplah biriyani

Moplah biryani is the creation of the Muslim community in North Kerala, a state in India. The region is heavily influenced by Arab culture owing to the centuries of trade relations establishing a strong connection between the Arabs and the Malabar.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
Moplah biryani is the creation of the Muslim community in the state of North Kerala in India. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Preparing Moplah biryani is relatively easy. The ingredients include portion-cut chicken, basmati rice, onions, tomatoes, ginger, ghee, green chilies, turmeric powder, coriander leaves, lime, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, garam masala, and cashews and raisins for the topping.

You’ll require a vessel with a generous bottom to implement this recipe. Once all the seasonings and spices have been prepared, the chicken and rice are added into the pot and cooked in a slow-burn mode after sealing the top and placing live coals on it. Be sure to be there when the pot is unsealed to experience that heavenly aroma.

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Raven Montmorency
Raven Montmorency is a pen name used for a writer based in India. She has been writing with her main focus on Lifestyle and human rights issues around the world.

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