Cover Image - Veg Biryani: In search of lost respect and identity

Veg Biryani: In search of lost respect and identity


One Sunday morning, VB woke up with a headache. He hadn’t been sleeping well. It had been only a week at school, and even the thought of spending another day there made him uneasy.

It’s not that VB didn’t enjoy his time there. He had friends: Prickly peas, Caty carrot and Pausty potato. Curdy has been good too.

But other kids teased him; called him Pulao, and he didn’t know why.

So, off he went… in search of his identity… to find who he is.

Edgie, the spatula, caught VB around the corner, and sat him down… for the story of Biryani.

“Now, listen kid!

People say Biryani has a Persian origin. It might have.

As per the legends, Timur, a Turk-Mongol conqueror, brought it to India. His army used to mix rice, spices and meat in an earthen pot and bury it in a hot pit for cooking. Another story is that Mughals invented the dish. On the orders of Mumtaz Mahal, the chef prepared a special meal, with meat and rice, to provide balanced nutrition to the soldiers. It came to be known as Biryani.

However, Biryani is as Indian as Sanskrit. In fact, the Biryani from Persia (present day Iran) doesn’t even have rice. It is a stewed mutton/lamb side-dish, which is later grilled and served with bread (or rice).”

“So, why do people believe it came from Persia?” asked VB.

“Have patience kiddo. I’m coming to it.” assured Edgie.

“OK…” Edgie continued, “It is said that the Mughal cooks fried the rice in ghee, before adding the meat, spices and other ingredients. Now, these “introducers” were from Persia. And berian is the word for “fried” in Persian. So, they named the dish Biryani! It might also be possible that biryani came to be known so, because rice is called birinj in Persian.

So, you see, only the name of Biryani has a Persian origin.”

Wobbly, the pot, came and sat beside VB.

Edgie continued, “Earlier Biryani used to have mutton and rice as the key ingredient. But as it reached different corners of the country, regional variants with beef, chicken and fish also came into being. And each recipe lends a distinct flavour and aroma to the traditional Biryani.

Awadhi Biryani (from Lucknow) uses whole spices and is mild in taste. But the Biryani from Hyderabad uses an array of ground spices, making it hot and spicy. Hyderabad though, also has a milder version: Doodh Ki Biryani. It has minimal spices and is flavored with creamy milk and roasted nuts.

Then, Kolkata Biryani too, is known for its mild taste. Its distinctive feature is the presence of potato along with your choice of meat. Some people add egg too.

Apart from those, Kampuri Biryani (from Assam) is a colourful variant. It contains peas, carrots and beans, in addition to meat.

Malabar Biryani, Dindigul Biryani and Bombay Biryani are also among the 20+ Biryani versions in the country, each having a flavour and texture different from the others.”

“Vegetable Biryani, with green beans, bell peppers, carrots, peas and cauliflowers, was also developed.” Wobbly chimed in. Added “This variant came into existence in Mysore when Tipu Sultan hired bookkeepers who were vegetarian. The cooks replaced meat with potatoes.”

“But isn’t that what everyone calls Pulao?” asked VB.

Sticko, the wok, joined the conversation. “No, son, not at all! Pulao is cooked differently. Pulao is more like flavoured rice, which needs to be accompanied by side dish(es). Biryani, on the other hand, doesn’t need a sidekick. It can satisfy your taste buds by itself.”

“Both Biryani and Pulao…” Sticko continued, “are rice-based dishes with an assortment of spices, mixed with meat or veggies. Yes, Pulao too, has veg and non-veg variants. Pulao is even served plain; with saffron, rose water or screw pine essence added for fragrance.

But the way both these dishes are prepared differs.

Cooking Pulao is simpler than Biryani. The meat and veggies are fried along with spices. Then, rice is mixed with it, and vegetable/meat stock and water are added for cooking.”

Sticko paused, then continued, “However, in case of Biryani, spices, rice and meat/vegetables are partially cooked first, separately. Then, the fried spices, partially-boiled rice and the half-cooked meat and veggies are layered in a vessel.

Water might be added if needed.

But traditionally, the cooking vessel is covered and sealed with a strip of dough once the ingredients are layered. Everything is baked in the steam with their own moisture, over low heat, for about an hour; slowly absorbing the flavours.

Thus, you get a dum-cooked Biryani as result. Dum loosely translates to steam pressure.

The above method is known as the pakki (cooked) Biryani preparation style.

A kachchi (raw) Biryani preparation style exists as well. In this method, raw rice and meat and vegetables are layered, instead of partially-cooked ingredients. This Biryani takes longer to cook, but is more flavoursome.”

“The recipe for Pulao is rather straightforward in comparison. No?” queried Wobbly.

“OK, VB, that would be all for today. I hope you found your answers.” Edgie asked.

“Yes, thank you all.” VB grinned, “I am a Biryani.” and beamed towards the playground.

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