Saturday, November 17, 2007


How about teaching the rise and fall of Indo-Islamic rule in India using the idea of BIRYANI?

BIRYANI, to what the Outlook Traveller refers as the NATIONAL DISH, had originated in the royal kitchens of Turkey and Arabia. However, now the BIRYANI’s true home is India. The BIRYANI of each area of the continent has its own history and its unique character.

BIRYANI has been derived from the word Birian, which in Persian means ‘fried before cooking’. According to some documentation, it was brought to India by Tamur (1336-1405) from Persia. During the last six hundred years, the idea of BIRYANI has spread in many forms from Kashmir to Kochi and Sindh to Bangladesh.


In 1774, during the construction of Bara Imambara in Lucknow, the region had faced a severe famine. The people faced starvation. At that time tens of thousands of people were working for the construction. They were paid in kind. However, cooking for so many people during the famine had lead to a logistic problem and demanded a creative solution. Huge urns were filled with rice, meat and stock, and left to simmer for hours. The lids of the urns were sealed with dough so that no steam could escape. When they were opened, the vessels contained perfectly cooked fragrant BIRYANI. This was the birth of dum pukth tradition of cooking BIRYANI.

The test of good Awadhi BIRYANI is the aroma of basmati rice and spices.


The event of sepoy mutiny was well-known in the history of modern India. Just before the sepoy mutiny, a war had been fought at Lucknow between the British East India Company and the Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah. The Nawab was defeated and exiled to Calcutta. With his arrival in 1856, BIRYANI also made its way to the city of joy. Though there are a lot of similarities between the Awadhi and Calcutta BIRYANI, but surprisingly one would find big chunks of potatoes in the Calcutta BIRYANI. This was because the poorer homes could not afford meat in their BIRYANI.


The Kashmiri BHUNA GHOST BIRYANI and the KATCHE GHOST KI BIRYANI are the benevolence of the Mughal rulers to the northern most state of India. Kasmiri BIRYANI has a hearty dose of asafetida (hing), and is also called yakhni BIRYANI.


Like Lucknow, Hyderabad is also known as the Mecca of BIRYANI, and linked to the Mughal legacy. Chin Qalich Khan was the grand father of the first Nizam and the commander of Mughal army during the reign of Aurangzeb. His son Nawab Ghaziuddin Khan had married to the daughter of Sadullah Khan, the Prime Minister of Aurangzeb. After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire declined, and Ghaziuddin’s son Mir Qumaruddin established his position as the Viceroy. Later he became the first Nizam of Hyderabad. During his rule the present day Hyderabadi BIRYANI came into existence.

Hyderabadi BIRYANI is a unique blend of ingredients and methods of preparation derived from South India and Persia. Hyderabad BIRYANI has 26 types made in different styles, out of which KATCHI BIRYANI and PAKKI BIRYANI are most well-known styles. In KATCHI BIRYANI, meat is marinated in curd and then steamed with rice and in PAKKI BIRYANI, meat is cooked with all the accompanying spices and then the rice is simmered with the resultant gravy redolent of mace, ittar and kewra in a sealed handi with saffron and cardamom.


From Hyderabad to Arcot, a land locked town located in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu state. BIRYANI in this town has its own character with brinjal (egg plants) as an ingredient. The origin and evolution of Arcot BIRYANI is also associated with the Islamic conquest. The town was seized from the Hindu Marathas by a Muslim Nawab of Karnataka, who made the town as his capital in 1712.

Marriage between the families of Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nawab of Arcot explains the journey of BIRYANI into what is called Arcot BIRYANI. Arcot BIRYANI is cooked with smaller grains of rice.


The other branch of BIRYANI is supposed to have crossed the Arabian Sea and came to Calicut, brought in by the Arab trader. The Calicut BIRYANI is served with vinegar pickles and papads fried in coconut oil.
Besides history, geography has played an equally important role in the diversity of BIRYANI. For examples, while chicken and mutton BIRYANIs are common all over the sub continent, fish and prawn BIRYANI is Kerala’s own. Similarly in Bangladesh, puffed rice is cooked with hilsa fish as BIRYANI.