From Persia to India: History of Biryani
Many historians believe that biryani originated from Persia and was brought to India by the Mughals. Biryani was further developed in the Mughal royal kitchen. Biryani has been satiating hunger for centuries, now we shall get to know about its journey from Persia to India.
Biryani is a historical invention by the Turkic soldiers(an early medieval ethnolinguistic conglomeration of numerous tribes, living in the western and central Asia, broadly speaking the uzbegs, turks, tartar, the uyghurs), in the 10th-12th century A.D.. who due to shortage of time and scope, used to make a hotch-potch of rice and meat which they cooked in an earthen pot over a wood fire. On the other hand, during the 16th century Safavid dynasty Persian bertan used to prepare with mutton or chicken marinated overnight, with yogurt, spices and herbs, and garnished with fruits like pomegranate seeds, prunes and later placed in tannour for dum, then served with Chelo or steamed rice. The word dum pukht comes from Persia.
The word Biryani has been derived from the Persian word Brian, which means ‘fried before cooking’ and Birinj is the Persian word for rice. There are various theories related to the origin of this scrumptious dish.
Cuisine leaves its own imprint on history, India has witnessed many invaders; with every invader came a different culture and new cuisine. Muslim invaders like Turks, Arabs, Persians and Afghans introduced the culture of feasts to India. The Mughlai cuisine that India is famous for developed from the 15th century to the 19th century. The Mughals raised cooking to a form of art, introducing several recipes like biryani, pilaf and kebabs.
One of the legends states that Biryani was brought to India by the Turk-Mongol conqueror, Timur, in the year 1398. Later the Nizams of Hyderabad and Nawabs of Lucknow were known to have an appreciation for this special delicacy. The Mughal emperors were very fond of lavish dining experiences and appreciated the art of cooking. The traditional Mughlai Biryani had perfectly spiced meat chunks with kewra scented rice that emanated irresistible aroma, making everyone around hungry instantly.
There are many legends associated with the evolution of Biryani. One among these popular stories is related to Mumtaz Mahal, wife of Shah Jehan. It is believed that when Mumtaz visited the army barracks, she found that the Mughal soldiers seemed undernourished. So, in order to provide a balanced diet to the soldiers, she asked the chiefs to prepare a dish with meat and rice, Into it went some spices, saffron, and ghee, it was cooked over a wood fire that gave it an excellent taste and fragrance.
There is one more story an Indian Restaurateur believes that the dish originated in Persia, and was brought to India by the Mughals and according to Vishwanath Shenoy, the owner of a biryani restaurant chain in India, one branch of biryani comes from the Mughals, while another was brought by the Arab traders to Malabar in South India.
Contrary to all the above beliefs, during the mughal time, people did not know the use of ginger, garlic, green chillies, turmeric and coriander seeds.
Since that time experimentation went on in the royal kitchen and new spices were added as time passed. It was the Europeans who brought newly discovered spices from their newly discovered islands in south-east Asia. The Europeans called South-east Asia or Indonesian archipelago or island of Molucca as the ‘spice island’. Vegetables like potato, tomato, chilli, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg were traded to India during the rule of the Mughals.
However, there is no doubt that Islamic Persians inspired and popularised this dish. Biryani has been adorned with all the subtleties and intensity of all the spices, the richness of ghee and the elegance of rice and meat, and has come to become a favourite among all. Biryani was born from all the heritages, which the new era was going to obliterate.
Today we can proudly say that our Indian biryani is the best culmination of the process of relentless experimentations of the bawarchis, who poured in their in-born talent to make it vibrant with our lifestyle and every household craves to make any sort of biryani in any kind of gathering. It can be proudly said that “biryani represents India”.