Biryani or Briyani? Nobody knows or even cares which one is the correct way to pronounce it because everyone is busy wolfing it down!
As a Penangite, I learn early about the value of a newspaper-wrapped biryani on a Friday afternoon because in Penang, biryani is the official celebration food and nothing says TGIF more than it.
After moving to KL, I realised that the well-loved food of my hometown is not a big of a deal here and that is something we need to change, pronto!
Biryani: The Origins
The earliest record of biryani in history is unknown. However, Sohail Nakhwi, a Delhi-based historian stated that the earliest population of humans in Central Asia started the method of cooking rice with meats of cows and goats for more than four thousand years ago.
Meanwhile, Kris Dhillon, an accomplished Indian restaurateur, has her own perception of how biryanis existed. According to her, the modern biryani originated in Persia and was brought to India by the Mughals. However, her theory is countered by a claim that biryani has already existed in India before the first Mughal emperor, Babur came to India.
So, which is which, really? Is Biryani originated from India or not? That is still a mystery for us but a shout out to the creator of the biryani; we, Malaysians thank you wholeheartedly for your genius and delicious creation.
Biryani: The Making
The secret of a delicious, fragrant biryani is in the ingredients. This is the reason we have so many varieties of biryani. The ingredients used usually signify the place of origin and preference of the people there. That is why a plate of biryani in North India tastes and smell differently than one cooked in the south.
In general, biryani is basmati rice cooked together with chicken, beef or mutton, seasoned with different types of spices like pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, onion, tomatoes, and garlic. The buttery flavour of the biryani is contributed by the usage of ghee or clarified butter in which the rice is stewed in while cooking.
In the Indian subcontinent, it is common to prepare the dish with a few choice vegetables and fruits. For example, the Navratan variety uses cashews, dried grapes, apples and pineapples to give a sweeter and richer flavour.
Usually, the freshly-cooked rice is moist but if leave for long, it will become dry and slightly grainy. Therefore, it is advisable for you to eat it with some raita, a cooling yoghurt condiment, korma, or curry to enhance the flavour of the dish.
Biryani Around the World
“What? Biryani can be found at other places than Kapitan?”
Yes! And here is a list for you to use as a guide when travelling to biryani cities in the future.
1. Nizamuddin Biryani
- A lot of green chillies are added in this variety.
2. Hyderabadi Biryani
- One of India’s most famous biryani, it is made with basmati rice, spices and mutton but popular variations use chicken instead. The meat is marinated and cooked along with the rice. It is left on slow fire to let the meat and rice stew in the spiced ghee broth to give an aromatic flavour to it.
3. Malabar Biryani
- Originated from Kerala, it is made of chicken, spices and a special ghee-mixed rice called Khyma. 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, only a little chilli is used.
4. Calcutta Biryani
- This variety uses potatoes and eggs instead of meats. Besides, it is much lighter on spices. If meats are used, the marinate consists primarily of nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, cloves, cardamom and yogurt. The unique part about it is the rice is flavoured with pandan or rose water along with saffron to give it flavour and a light yellowish colour.
5. Chettinad Biryani
- It is a famous in Tamil Nadu. It is made of jeeraka samba rice, spices and ghee. It is best eaten with a spicy and tangy mutton gravy and is usually topped with fried onions and curry leaves.
1. Bohri Biryani
- It is a variety of biryani created by the Bohri tribe which is flavoured with a lot of tomatoes. It is very popular in Karachi.
2. Sindhi Biryani
- The exotic and aromatic Sindhi version is known in Pakistan for its spicy taste, fragrant rice and delicate meat. It is prepared an amalgamation of meat, Basmati rice, vegetables and various types of spices.
in Afghanistan, Biryan, a dish similar to biryani is eaten. It consists of meat and rice cooked together in a pot but without the additional gravy and other condiments that are usually eaten together with the dish. Besides, the Afghani version tends to use a lot of dry fruit and lesser amounts of meat which is often cut in tiny pieces.
In Burma, biryani is known as danpauk or danbauk. Danpauk features ingredients such as cashew nuts, yogurt, raisins, peas, chicken, cloves, cinnamon, saffron and bay leaf. Besides, the danpauk is eaten with a salad of sliced onions and cucumber.
The most famous version is the Iraqi one where the rice, usually saffron-based, is cooked with meats of chicken. Most variations of the Iraqi biryani include vermicelli, fried onions, fried potato cubes, almonds and raisins that are spread liberally over the rice. If too dry, a sour or spicy tomato sauce is served on the side.
In Iran, a dish called Berian is introduced during the Safavid dynasty. It is made with lamb or chicken, marinated overnight with yogurt, herbs, spices, dried fruits like raisins, prunes or pomegranate seeds before being cooked in an oven. However, rice is not cooked along with the berian and is served separately..
In Indonesia, there is a dish that is similar to the biryani which is called nasi kebuli. It is an Indonesian spicy steamed rice dish cooked in goat broth, milk and ghee.
Is your appetite for biryani being whetted? If so, do not wait til Friday to get a plate of this wonderful dish and be marvelled with the uniqueness of taste and texture in just one bite. Now you know why biryani has a special place in every Penangites’ hearts.