The delectable Nizami heritage

The delectable Nizami heritage

The delectable Nizami heritage

Gunraj Singh
The world was a much tastier place when, as a young professional, Hyderabad used to treat me with a different ‘Biryani’ every other day. The old Hyderabad streets practically reek of these condiments that go into the making of the sumptuous Hyderabadi Biryanis. I still remember the beguiling masala-air from those visits.
‘Biryani’ probably derives its name from the Persian word ‘birinj’ for rice. However, there is hardly any authentic documentation of its origin. Some sources see its origins during the raids of Babur; others believe it to be a result of the intermingling of Persian ‘pulao’ with the Indian spicy rice dishes starting from the days of Taimur. Nevertheless, most food historians agree to a middle eastern origin and to an overwhelming fondness for the dish in the Mughal courts. From the Mughal courts, this love percolated to their subahs too; and, it became dangerously famous – outliving the subahs themselves. No wonder, we today think of biryanis when we hear the words ‘Awadhi, Kolkata, Hyderabadi’ together in a sentence.
As a story goes, when Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah (Nizam I) was appointed as the Governor of Hyderabad, he took with him many of the chefs from the Mughal kitchens; and, during a hunting expedition, one of these chefs used the available local spices to eventually invent the Hyderabadi Biryani. The original biryani though was actually made with mutton or lamb/goat meat, the Nizami kitchens, over the years, saw many more varieties. Some of these were borrowed from the Mughal kitchens while others were born in the heart of Hyderabad itself. The biryani was so well patronized in the Nizami courts that soon biryanis were found with beef, mutton, prawn, chicken and fish too. After the fall of the Mughals, Hyderabad emerged as a centre of South Asian culture and the Hyderabadi Biryani rose to more prominence.
The Biryanis were, and are, broadly prepared in two different types viz. kacchi (raw) biryani, and the pakki (cooked) biryani.  In the kachchi biryani, the marinated meat and rice are cooked together in a sealed haandi over a slow flame. In a pakki biryani, the meat is marinated for a lesser time and is almost cooked while the rice is semi-cooked and both are then arranged in layers and steamed together. Generally, the Hyderabadi Biryani is prepared in the Kacchi biryani style; and, is served with a salan, which is a gravy made with peanut and whole green chilli with chopped onions, and raita. It is said that the old flavours can still be found in the streets of the old city of Hyderabad where the original recipes have been handed down over generations.
The myriad tastes that have evolved in the different kitchens across Hyderabad over the ages are a symbol of the love these people have bestowed on this dish. They have truly made the Biryani their own. Today, even the fast food culture has wrapped this dish into its own folds. The love and patience in the cooking of the Biryani being lost, the connoisseurs do complain of the lost taste; but, that’s the cost we pay to making it a go-to dish today.
The author is a History teacher at Welham Boys’ School, Dehradun. The views expressed are completely his own.


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