Exploring the evolution of Biriyani

It is a less known fact that the National Capital is not just known for its rich history and the rich legacy of Mughlai cuisine. The city of Delhi is also known for its origins of Biriyani. Long grains of rice is cooked on dum with aromatic yakhni, dry fruits, and kewda, served with raita, pickles or eaten on its own. Quintessentially a Persian import, biryani is now available in many variations. The dish derives its name from the Persian word biriyan, which translates to ‘fried before cooking’, referring to the golden fried onion rings.

Tracing the journey of biryani, Initially, it didn’t have any spice in it. There is also a theory about Isfahani biryani that didn’t have rice at all. Brown fried onion and pieces of meat were served on bread. It was in India that rice was added to it. Pilaf used to be made with rice, but as it reached India, the two got mixed together and we got biryani. In Kolkata there is a mixture of Potato in the biryani and the biriyani there is called Awadhi biryani. Rice is boiled in yakhni water and then everything is mixed and cooked on dum.

Hyderabadi biryani is more of a Nizami preparation. It is called kacche gosht ki biryani in which the meat is cooked first with masalas and then rice is layered on top of it. The biryanis available in Delhi have an Uttar Pradesh influence, and the addition of green chilies and achaar is a very recent one. In Old Delhi, they also serve haleem biryani. It originated in Meerut and eventually came to Delhi. Also, biryani is made with basmati rice, but in most places in the city, it is being made with sela rice.

This is a corruption of the dish. Biryani is interestingly a street food speciality in the city, and you can have your fill even on a shoestring budget. At homes in Old Delhi, the cooking method is completely different than that deployed at shops. Here, the food is simple and cooked with a labor of love, which sometimes involves the entire family. The recipes are simple and passed down generations. The biryani we make at home uses yakhni in which the meat is cooked with spices and yogurt. Spices such as Kesar and zarda are used in most home-made biryanis. The rice is half-cooked in a separate degh, and yakhni is added on top of it. Then, it is cooked it dum style. In shops and restaurants, rice is added over the masalas and then cooked