The Origins and History of Biryani

Chicken Biryani

Chicken Biryani

Biryani has become more than just a dish. It is now considered to be THE dish that identifies Pakistani and Indian cuisine. In fact, it is now considered to be the best introduction of the entire South Asian cuisine.

The dish is immensely popular because it conveys the entire spectrum of the flavors that could be found in the region’s cuisine. The ingredients, rice, meat and spices offer wide latitude to the cook. This allows for the various versions of biryani that the region offers.

The history of biryani is as interesting as the dish itself. There are several traditions that describe the creation tale of the dish. Almost everyone in the history of the region claims the credit of creating either the dish itself or one of the precursors that evolved into the dish.

The trouble with tracing the origins of biryani is the fact that the four ingredients, rice, ghee, meat and spices have been used in the indigenous cooking for a very long time. In fact, there is a record of a dish in Tamil Nadu that closely resembles biryani both in composition and preparation. Known as Oon Soru, the dish comprised of rice, ghee, meat and spices including the bay leaf. The earliest mention of the dish goes to AD 2, which predates all other references. The dish was used as mess fare for the army.

Similar references state that nomads of the area that we now call sub-continent used to boil rice and meat with spices (just salt and herbs) in an earthen pot. This pot was then buried in embers and dug out. The result of the exercise could resemble a very crude form of biryani.

However, the strongest tradition of the origin of Biryani states that the dish was brought to the region by the Mughals. This carries a lot of truth because Mughals contributed a lot to the modern culinary history of the region. It is said that Mumtaz Mehal of the Taj Mehal fame ordered the preparation of the dish to make sure that the royal army remained well fed.

The name of the dish is also a string indication of its Persian origin. The word biryani is rooted in the Farsi word ‘biryani’. The word means fried and is commonly used in modern Farsi. The fact that the meat is usually fried before adding to the other ingredients bears out the story.

Biryani has become more than just a regional dish. Through the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Arabic world, biryani in one form or another is both a regular fare and a dish worthy of placing in front of the most esteemed guests.

Zafar Iqbal

Zafar Iqbal

Zafar Iqbal is Contributing Editor of Awaz e Pakistan. He strongly believes in the power of words and words represent ideas that cannot be suppressed.
Zafar Iqbal

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