Although Indian cuisine is well-known internationally, there is a dish we didn’t hear much about until the day we put our feet in India. This dish is called Biryani and we just loved it.

We grew up in Brazil, a very diverse country but without a trace of Indian immigrants, therefore, very little influenced by its gastronomy. For this and other reasons, we decided to explore Indian food with our own eyes.

It was during two months in India (and believe, it is little time) that we learned that the local gastronomy goes far beyond spicy curries, that most Indians are not as vegetarians as we thought, and that Biryani is undoubtedly a national passion.

What is Biryani?

The Biryani is traditionally a rice dish with meats and spices. There are regional variations that add potatoes, nuts, dried fruits, rose water, and so on.

One of its main features is the method of preparation that is considered by many an art of Indian cuisine.

hyderabadi biryani with egg

The origin of Biryani

The Mughal Empire was one of the great responsible for the culinary ascension in India by introducing and enhancing various dishes that today are part of the local gastronomy. In this context, historians point out that Biryani arrived in India from the north with the Mughal Empire, but there is also the hypothesis that the dish was introduced in the south of the country with the Arab merchants.

What differs Biryani from other Indian dishes

It is very important to emphasize that Biryani is neither a type of risotto nor synonymous with pulao, another typical dish of India.

The main difference with the Pulao is the method of preparation. In the case of the Pulao, the ingredients (meat, vegetables, rice) are all stir-fried together to then add water and cook by absorption. The cooking occurs at medium-high heat, which makes the Pulao a very fast dish to prepare.

Biryani has several steps. It is prepared in layers from which at least one of the layers is dedicated to meat or vegetables. The other layers are used to add other ingredients such as rice, fried onion, spices, etc. The rice is cooked separately (but not in its entirety) and drained before going into the main vessel.

Main methods of preparation

The Biryani is known by two distinct methods: Kacchi and Pakki. In the Kacchi method, you cook the marinated meat along with the rice. In the Pakki method, the meat is cooked separately and then the other ingredients are added together.

As a complement to the Kacchi and Pakki methods, there is a technique called Dum. In the Dum technique, the pan is sealed with a dough of flour and water that serves to retain steam and help the cooking as if it were a pressure cooker.

cooking biryani with dum method
A ‘handi’ vessel with the cover sealed by the Dum method under another pan to put weight on it.

Variations of Biryani

As with everything in cooking, dishes are usually adapted to the local tastes and ingredients and the story is no different with the Biryani. We found different versions not only in India but also in other countries.

In India

From North to South, whenever we talked about Biryani with our Indian friends, several cities were mentioned such as Lucknow, Kolkata, Malabar, Ambur and with great prominence the city of Hyderabad.

We have tried it in almost every major city we visited in India and all deserve the fame it has for its particularities. Therefore, despite the immense discussion we have witnessed several times about the best Biryani, the choice was always very personal. It involves other elements beyond the taste, a lot of affective memory and unique moments that is experienced around the dish.

In our case, the one we liked the most was the Hyderabadi Dum Biryani which we learned during a culinary course in Hyderabad. When you prepare the food yourself, everything gets better!

The different types of Biryani by region in India:

  • Hyderabad: A well known Kacchi Dum style, it is famous for its juiciness, aroma and spicy. Along with cardamom, cinnamon, clove and other spices, saffron is a strong feature of this dish.
  • Lucknow (Awadhi): The closest to the Biryani of Hyderabad, famous for the method Pakki Dum. Also Known as Awadhi Biryani, it differentiates itself by being more subtle in the use of spices
  • Kolkata: Recognized by its sweetness, one of the features of Bengali cuisine. Other characteristics of this dish are the use of nutmeg, potatoes, boiled egg and fragrances such as Kewra (Pandanus extract), and Rosewater. It was the first one that we tried!
  • Ambur (Tamil Nadu): Famous in Tamil Nadu, this Biryani uses a different type of rice called Seeraga Samba which is characterized by shorter grains than traditional basmati rice. Among the spices, the use of coriander and mint is highlighted.
  • Malabar: Well-known in Kerala, the Malabar Biryani also uses another local short-grain rice called Khyma, plus raisins and cashew nuts. Something we liked about the Biryani we experienced in the city of Cochin, in the state of Kerala, was the option of Tamarind sauce to mix with it.

Outside India

Besides India, you can find different versions in several countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and even Thailand.

In Penang, Malaysia we became fans of the delicious dishes of Nasi Kandar with Biryani rice.

In Thailand, we proved the Khao Mok Gai (Thai chicken Biryani), an interesting and aromatic version that also use several spices but it is not as tasty as the Malaysian version.

Read more: Discover the most famous rice dishes from around the world

Hyderabad, that’s where we learned how to make Biryani

During our travels, we went to Hyderabad to learn in practice how to cook the most famous dish from India. See all the details here!

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