Deconstructing our humble Biryani

No matter which region of the world you hail from but there is an intimate connection you hold with this unanimously known and omnipresent dish called Biryani. Even if you have consumed it once in all your humble existence, for most of the Indian sub-continent it’s a regular, easy and quiet a favorite affair to dive into.

1-Afghani style spinach fenugreek pilaf
1-Afghani style spinach fenugreek pilaf

It is a one pot dish which is cooked with meat (preferably mutton, buffalo or chicken) and rice with spices over a slow simmer for a substantial amount of  time, until the rice absorbs the flavour of meat and spices and feels like one, except of their varied texture. But there are lot of confusions and questions crafted around the same delicacy (atleast for those who have tried to figure it out a bit deeper than most of us) like where did it come from? What is the origin? Which Indian variant is the authentic one? and so on) let us try to figure them out today-

There is a vast divide in people when it comes to Biryani, most of the north Indians would easily believe that this is a north Indian delicacy and south Indians or people in the eastern belt don’t do it the right way, but people from those regions believe vice-versa.

1-chicken dum biryani
2-chicken dum biryani

Origin– From the numerous theories about the origin the 2 major ones are-

  1. The Arab traders who entered India through Silk route via southern India near Calicut introduced it to south Indians from where it spread like fire.
  1. It  was bought to India by Mughals with their invasion as their peculiar meal tracing its roots back to Persia as “Pilaf” or  modern day “Pulao”, which places its initiation in India from either Lucknow, Delhi or Calcutta because they were the  initial capitals to the  Mughaliya dynasty.

    1-murgh tamatar biryani or the Pakistani pulao biryani
    1-murgh tamatar biryani or the Pakistani pulao biryani

Difference between Pulao and a Biryani– It is important to remember the modern day difference between Pulao and biryani while dining out. When making a pulao rice and meat are cooked separately where the rice (basmati specifically)is soaked in water by the time meat is fried/cooked with spices; Once the rice is soaked well and meat is cooked both are put in a bigger deep vessel with water where the rice cooks in the Yakhni/Akhni (stock) of meat and gains the mild flavours and fragrance of meat.

While Biryani word has been derived from the Persian word birinj which means rice or biriyan which means fried or roasted. Here the rice and meat both are cooked separately and for the final touch both of them are layered together with initial layer of rice then meat then rice (which makes minimum 3 layers in total) and are finally cooked for few minutes but this has more spices than yakhni pulao and is heavier on the gut too.

The Ain-I-Akbari or the Mughal text that has shaped up most of Mughliya and Awadhi cuisine of India does not differentiate between both these things and clearly states Biryani to be a term that pre-existed even before 16th century when the book was drafted.

1-Madrasi style anda (egg) dum biryani
1-Madrasi style anda (egg) dum biryani


Kacchi – Here raw soaked rice and raw marinated meat are layered together and slow cooked for a long span of time. This one is also called kutchi or raw biryani.

Pakki–  Here rice and meat are cooked separately then layered together for dum or the steam cooking by sealing the ends of the vessel with atta. This is also called a pukki biryani.

1- Hyderabadi dum Biryani
1- Hyderabadi dum Biryani

Varieties– There are numerous varieties to the biryani being cooked in India now, with few or major difference the list is being placed here with the best of my knowledge-

Lucknow Biryani– This is a Yakhni with light spices and heavy use of saffron and screwpine (kawda) for a deep embedded fragrance.

Kanpur Biryani– This is Yakhni or kacchi style where meat is cooked initially and later rice is added and cooked together with broth of meat. Served with light yogurt raita and onion on side.

Delhi Biryani– It is a pakki style but with slightly more spices as compared to the Lucknow variant.

Calcutta Biryani– This is light spiced biryani with potatoes , rice and meat served together as a one pot dish.

Hyderabadi Biryani– This can be either kacchi or pakki style served with mirch ka salan or stir fried eggplant.

Memon Biryani– This is extremely spicy variety of biryani by Memon Muslim sect who reside in Gujrat and Bombay.

Bohri Biryani– This has a lot of tomatoes and is very well liked for its sour/tangy taste by Bohri muslims of Gujrat, Bombay and parts of Pakistan too.

Malabar Biryani– This is a very dry form of pakki biryani with lot of spices and specially deep brown coloured onions, the cooking medium for this one is coconut oil and it has less chillies.

Madrasi Biryani– This is high spiced form with a lot of Nutmeg & Mace some also use a lot of Tomato and even a whole boiled egg as side.

Sindhi Biryani– This is kacchi style biryani with mild spices, feels a lot like Yakhni pulao.

Ambur BIryani– This one is served with sour Brinjal curry or Pachadi and is quiet famous in southern India but yet to gain publicity.

Kolhapuri Biryani– Comes with 2 fixed side gravies Tambra rassa (white) and Pandhra rassa (dark).

Bombay Biryani– This is a slightly sweeter version with plums in it.

2-Bombay Biryani
2-Bombay Biryani

India is not the only place to have Biryani, it have now eloped borders and is now available in Bangladesh, Britain, Burma, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Japan to name a few; although with their own versions which would be very alien to most of us. Even in India we have Prawn, Fish, Egg and Biryanis now. To sum this all up in minimal words in my humble opinion Biryani is like dal (pulses) where it does not belong to one place, everyone has his own personal style of doing it and nobody leaves a chance of associating it to themselves in regards to area or initiation of it.

***all the pictures labeled number 1 are from Cubes & Juliennes and the ones labelled number 2 are from Spoon, Fork and Food which have been provided by the concerned rightful owners and are their exclusive properties***

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  1. Biryani is a truly universal dish,it’s growing popularity in the West surely proves it 😊 Thanks for a brilliant article,I haven’t tried many varieties of biryani- but I did try Hyderabadi biryani when I last visited India a few years ago, and it’s my favourite so far

    • The whole world seems to love it, I have been to east coast US, as my farmost west bound destination and people savour this thing even over there; all thanks to the Indians and Pakistanis living there .. You must try the Lucknow, Kanpur and malabar ones they are really good..

    • I can’t find the right words to say how much I appreciate you visiting my blog everyday, reading it properly and making notes on each one of them personally.. I guess I have only thankyou for now.. I thought you would be somewhere in India, where exactly are you?

      • I have Indian roots. I have been brought up in the UK and have resided here all my life. The only time I have visited India is to visit family a few times 🙂 Everything about India fascinates me and I have a dream of exploring the sub-continent one day. Your blog is certainly a treasure, it’s very descriptive, informative and above all, honest.
        I am delighted to have discovered it as you capture the very essence of India, and it certainly has helped me learn a lot so far.

        • Thanks to you, I’m speechless yet again 🙂 . I sure have spend a good amount of time exploring India with a very open mind and heart.
          I hope I can help you learn bit more about your own roots and make you smile 🙂 have a great time ahead and thankyou once again…

  2. Bilal bhai . i did some research onthe never ending debate about the difference between Pulao and Biryani .. just adding my two cents of findings to your article .. A pulao is cooked in the water it is soaked in .. cold and hot / starch .. not a biryani … though this may vary but in general 6/10 gaveme this feedback .

  3. Being a muslim and hailing from kanpur, I have been hogging on biryani since birth.. My acquaintance to its types- kanpurya (thats the way i would prefer tp call it), lucknowee, madrasi, hydrabadi and malabari (courtsey my malyali wife).. made me live under the notion that I know it all, thanks for breaking it Bilal… I liked your research and the gastronimical sense… Keep up the great work.. Cheers!!

  4. This post is just making me crave for Biryani…. id say with theShan Masala mixes its quite an easy thing to prepare … even compared to rice and curry considering the time it takes to make several dishes vs just raita and a pot of yummyy biryani… Ive tried malabar nd d ones v find in chennai nd there is also a srilankan version of biryani which is different from the Indian… with ready made spice mixes ive cooked sindi biryani, bombay biryani and hydrabadi ….


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