Yes, you heard that right! Biryani originated from Persia (known today as Iran). So much has been said about Iran; the mysterious-yet-wondrous land that piques the interest of people abroad! It comes to no surprise, perhaps that Iran is the birthplace of such a wondrous and exotic dish like Biryani.
The word Biryani itself derived from the Persian language. It means fried or roasted.
Just picturing a plate of Biryani evokes a complex combination of fragrance and tantalizing flavours of cloves, cardamon, peppercorn, cumin, curry, garam masala, coriander, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, dried plums, cilantro and chillies.
Of course, each chef has his own version of Biryani but the point is, each plate should delivers what it promises!
In the heyday, the Mughal empire was a federation ruled and established by a Muslim Turkic dynasty of Chagatai Turco-Mongol origin from Central Asia. The founder was called Babur. Babur of Turco-Mongol-Genghis Khan descendant successfully instituted peace among the many vibrant cultures and communities of Persia, Mongol and India.
Peace continued to prosper throughout the 1600s where Emperor Shah Jahan led its peak in leading India and Pakistan. What remained prosperous too was the empire’s unique blend of culture, arts and food that were evident in the manner the royals dined and ate.
One day, as Shah Jahan’s Queen, Mumtaz Mahal visited the royals’ army, she was shocked to see how famished and malnourished the soldiers really were. Wanting change, Mumtaz Mahal requested the head chef to prepare something wholesome, both rich in nutrition and protein. It was said that Biryani was the product of such request.
Today, many variations of biryani are prepared beyond its birthplace with its own flavour and inspirations.
Thalassery biryani has cultural influences of Mughal and Arab in Malabar. Trade and the emigration to the Middle East of locals from the 1970s onwards was the main influence to this dish.
Thalassery Biriyani also known as Kerala Biryani uses Khyma rice (not to be confused with Basmati rice). Kayma rice are a short-grain and thin rice. Photo: Challiyan
The Hyderabadi biryani originated from Hyderabad, India. It is said to have arrived from a legacy of the Nizams of Hyderabad State with a blend of Mughlai, Iranian, Mughal, Turkish, and Arabic.
There are two kinds to this biryani – Kachchi (raw) Biryani, and the Pakki (cooked) Biryani. The Kachchi biryani is prepared with meat marinated with spices overnight and then soaked in yogurt before cooking. The gosht (meat) is sandwiched between layers of fragrant long-grained basmati rice and cooked in dum. This meticulous method of cooking requires attention to time and temperature to get the right tenderness to the meat. In a Pakki biryani, the meat is marinated for a shorter time and cooked before being layered with the rice and cooked.
Biryani in Southeast Asia
Khao mok kai is the Thai version of chicken biryani. The dish is made by cooking rice together with the chicken curry. The sauce on the side contains ginger, coriander (cilantro), green chillies, vinegar, sugar, salt and water.
There’s also Biryani in Burma! Typically, the locals have it during weddings and special events. However, biryani remains to be growing in popularity. Today, the locals have it any other day with a number of vendors taking their biryani business online as well!
One of Halalke’s favourite spots for a good biryani is from Islamic Restaurant. Today, it stands at 94 years old. Story has it that the founder, Mr Abdul Rahman was an Indian masterchef who cut his teeth working for a wealthy Arab family, the Alsagoffs. Mr Abdul who infused aromatic and the wonderful flavours of both the Indian and Arab cuisines knew he would continue to do well if he made it out on his own. He did exactly that. The rest was history. Many delegates and celebrities have come to try Islamic’s biryani including Prime Minister Najib Razak!