Let’s talk about food today. What’s that one of the dishes which brings India on the same plate? What is that one Mughlai food, by the name and aroma of which gives you foodgasm? Yes a plateful of the quintessential `biryani’, made with succulent pieces of meat or vegetables, which majority of Indians (and yeah I am not generalising and there are people who don’t like it) and people like me whose love for this dish knows no bounds can have it three times a day, if possible.
Why biryani is so special? In conjunction with the flavours, or that it appeals to all ages, you ask? The robust flavour of a variety of spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, garlic, cloves and green and black cardamom bring about warmth and heat in the entire biryani.
The saffron and milk to bring in colour and aroma in the biryani give a royal taste and sight to the eater. The answer lies in part with the nature of the dish: biryani is fragrant, spiced rice that has been parboiled and then cooked with meat, usually chicken or goat. The rice gets its robust flavour from a variety of spices, including ginger, garlic, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron and rosewater, as well as from the meat itself. And any biryani makes you fall in love with it because of the way it is cooked in dum! The smokey flavour that slow cooking of the coal brings in is stunning! In some middle eastern countries, biryani is eaten along with Peta or any other flatbread too! so it is a complete meal in itself.
With local and hyperlocal variations having evolved into distinctive styles of biryanis, one is spoilt for options when it comes to experiencing this melting pot of flavours. The evolution of biryani spans many centuries, many cultures, many ingredients and many cooking styles. From an army dish to a dish fit for royalty, the biryani today is a pan-India culinary favourite. Its many varieties reflect the local tastes, traditions and gastronomic histories of their regions of evolution. .In the north, long-grain brown rice was traditionally used to make biryani. It has today been replaced by the fragrant basmati rice. On the other hand, in the south, biryanis were and are still made using local varieties of rice, like the zeera samba, Kaima, jeerakasala and kala bhaat, that lend their distinct taste, texture and aroma to the dish.
Biryani is derived from the Persian word Birian, which means ‘fried before cooking’ and Birinj, the Persian word for rice. There are many stories cooked up as to how biryani made its way to India, but one general conception is that it came all the way from West Asia. Although biryani is widespread across the subcontinent today, it had much more exclusive origins. There are records of a rice dish known as Oon Soru in Tamil literature as early as the year 2 A.D. Oon Soru was said to be made of rice, ghee, meat, turmeric, coriander, pepper, and bay leaf, and was used to feed military warriors. But the term “biryani” and the closest predecessor to its modern incarnation seems to have originated around India’s Mughal era.
The fact that biryani was a dish for kings and princes might explain why, outside of the subcontinent and select Islamic countries, it doesn’t taste quite right.
Biryani may have come a long way and might have attracted many haters who will at the blink of an eye call it overrated, but whatever critics (food bloggers or some uncle around the corner) says. There are many variants of this dish all adapted and evolutionised according to its regions. Biryani has its cult followers who would never tire themselves at savouring and digging into this exotic rice or debating the pros of it.