The name Hyderabad in instant makes mouths water for the flavor of Biryani that is just so intrinsic to the city’s 400 years old culture. Coming from Farsi (Persian) word Biryan, the dish is said to have originated in Persia or Arabia. Some say it came from Persia via Afghanistan to Northern India and then through Mughal courts and fusion of cooking influences from Persia, Aurangzeb brought it to Hyderabad when he invaded south. Others believe that the Arab traders through the Arabian Sea brought it to Calicut.
There is no authentic documentation but yes the story of Biryani is spiced with a few legends. One has it that it was originally the food of the nomads in West Asia who would dig a pit in the ground, put in the rice, meat and spices in a container and cover the pit only to find the appetizing flavor seeping from the ground in the evenings. Astounding!
According to another fable, Mumtaz Mahal created this dish as a wholesome meal to feed the Mughal emperor's army. From the Mughals, the biryani spread to the Nizam's kitchens in Hyderabad, Awadh (now Lucknow) and Calcutta.
It was a royal dish of the Nawabs and Nizams and came to be known as a celebration dish. Vegetarian Hindus were hired as bookkeepers that passed the secret recipe to generations.
Making this fragrant dish is an art. One needs to use the right mixture of spices, long-grained Basmati rice, meat, yogurt, ghee and cook in dum pukht. Dum means steam and dum pukht literally means to choke off the steam. The food is placed in a pot, usually made of clay, and dough is used to create a tight seal to prevent steam from escaping. The food is slowly cooked in its own juices and steam, allowing herbs and spices to fully infuse the meat or rice, preserving the nutritional elements at the same time. In the best biryanis, grains of rice are well cooked yet do not stick to one another. The meat, usually on the shank, is soft, well marinated and enhances the heady aroma of Basmati and the spices.
Hyderabadi biryani is traditionally made with uncooked, marinated lamb. It is layered at the bottom of a pan with rice in various stages of 'doneness'; the topmost is more pre-cooked than the rice nearest the meat that is only 25 percent cooked. The point is to have perfectly cooked meat with flavorful rice.
Historians claim that the earlier Nawabs of Punjab wore a matching turban for each variety of Biryani. The Nizam's kitchen boasted of 49 kinds, which included Biryani made from fish, quail, shrimp, deer and hare; today there are over two dozen varieties in India alone. And not only Hyderabad, you’d find various versions of Biryani across India and South East Asia. Sindhi Biryani, vegetarian Tahiri (India,Bangladesh and Pakistan) Suleimani in Malabar area, Danpauk htamin in Mayanmar, Malay Biryani in Sri Lanka, Kachchi Murg Dum Biryani and Iraqi Biryani are just a few to name.