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Biryani: The Myth, The Mystery, The Legend

31/12/2014 12:21 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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The Washington Post via Getty Images
STERLING, VA - MAY 9: The hyderabadi chicken biryani is photographed at Akshaya Thursday May 9, 2013 in Sterling, VA. The restaurant features the Indo-Chinese cuisine. In the background at left is the lamb pepper fry. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Having lived in India for four years consecutively now, after having lived abroad for 13 years, I have achieved a few self-realisations that are both shocking and undeniably true. These are the characteristics of women and men and their perception about certain things, which if one were to research into, would prove factually deceptive. What makes these perceptions even more bizarre is for those in India to always have the last word. In everything!

Most of these factual anomalies can be analogised to India's most beloved dish, the biryani. Today, there are thousands of variants, each having a unique local and cultural twist. While the true history of biryani is both a mystery and mythological, I find it's present existence in the minds of people to be rather more interesting.

So, I'm going to categorise these "devilions" into brief points. Through the same you will yourself realise how much reality there exists in what we perceive to be true and what is actually so. Like the fact that less than 3% of India's population pay tax to the government. Or the fact that almost half of the Indians living on less than US$1.50 per day consider themselves middle class.

1. Biryani Must Be Oily And Heavy

Biryani in its original form was never a heavy dish. In fact, how could it be! During the great Indian rule, thousands and thousands of workers were fed this dish during their working hours. Were it heavy, it would have made them lethargic, slow, inefficient, put on weight and completely compromise the work at hand. It defeats the very essence of common sense. Furthermore, an excessive amount of oil and ghee is used now days to amplify artificial flavours in the dish that shouldn't be there in the first place. All this leads to an incredible amount of heaviness. An average non-veg biryani today has around 1,762 calories for 300gms. Through the latest methodologies in food, this can be reduced to 700 calories. And one can do this by achieving twice the flavour, more so, making the dish incredibly light at the same time.

2. Biryani Must Be Made With Garam Masala

This again isn't true at all. But a lot of 'self-proclaimed' chefs in India swear by the same. Food technology has evolved so much over the last decade that many of the world's finest Indian restaurants don't use garam masala to make their signature dishes. In fact, they now refrain from it completely. Garam masala can sometimes lead to a gastronomic disaster. Combinations of natural premium herbs can be used to not only recreate the precise architecture of flavour, but also surpass previous levels of excellence by making the dish blend together, giving it a more all rounded balance. With garam masala, there is segregation leading to unnecessary layering and additional time wastage on the cooking flame. A biryani can be cooked from scratch in 45 minutes flat if the right technology is adopted.

3. Biryani Must Be Made With Basmati Rice And With Preservatives

This is more of a 50/50 statement. While Basmati rice is considered one of the best rice in the world, it is by no means the penultimate. There are many forms of rice which are longer grain, more aromatic and far more premium. Further, by combining rice grains scientifically and intelligently, you can achieve half the carbohydrates, calories and lightness of traditional Basmati rice. This in effect reminds me of a great saying that goes something along the lines of this:

Technology and knowledge are king.

And the ones who adopt and embrace the future stand to win.

To say a biryani tastes better the next day is by far the most fictitious statement of them all. This translates to it being laced with a heap of artificial 'preservatives' helping it stay longer and taste worse in the process. The reason this 'myth' has caught on is that a lot of services make their biryani early in the morning if not the day or two before. And then are unable to sell the same. So the only way to recover costs is to forcefully "make it last" to hopefully sell in the future. The consumer is the eventual loser of this exercise, lied to, and been given an up to two-day-old biryani sold as "just made".

4. Biryani Is Primary Mutton And Non-Vegetarian

Firstly let me start by saying that the original biryani was a chicken dum biryani. Secondly, the fact that a vegetarian biryani doesn't exist or is categorised as a pulao is just false. In fact, if you ask any Michelin Star chef, they would always say if you cooked a dish perfectly side-by-side in its veg, chicken and mutton variants, the vegetarian one would always flourish over the chicken, and the chicken over the mutton. Why? Because the fattier the meat, the more it takes away from the bounce and spark of the entire dish. Step into the ITC Bukhara and try the same. You may be surprised!

FYI: A pulao is a rice dish, perhaps served with meat that requires an additional dish like a daal or a curry to accompany it. A biryani (at least a good one), is a self sustaining rice dish that doesn't require any accompaniment apart from say a yoghurt to soften the spice or make the dish less dry based on personal preference.

5. Biryani Must Be Cooked Over Hours To Tender The Meat

This again is simply untrue. Using methods like BlueFlame technology, one can cook meat in a mere 20 minutes and achieve the same results, if not better, than traditionally marinating meat and slow cooking it for up to 72 hours. The results can be cooked to perfection in this short timeline whereby both the outer and inner surfaces of the meat absorb all of the various flavours of the dish and still procure 'bite' within it. It is a well-known technique used in some of the most recognised Michelin-starred restaurants across the globe.

6. How Can A Veg Biryani Be More Expensive Than A Non-Veg Biryani

For one, any 'real' chef will tell you vegetarian food in its premium form is far more expensive than non-veg food. Secondly, vegetarians have a higher tolerance to spice and flavour than non-vegetarians. Studies equate this to about 20-25% more. If you take 20% more saffron alone being used in the vegetarian biryani, that itself would overshadow the cost of the meat three times over. Especially if you're using high-grade Spanish saffron at Rs 600 per gram. I've noticed that vegetarians get knocked down a lot in India. But ask a non-vegetarian of how vegetables need to be cooked and they wouldn't have a clue. All they want is their food soft and mushy, whereas vegetarians are incredibly picky and descriptive of how their food should be cooked, i.e. crunchy, half-cooked, slightly roasted etc.

It is for all the above that I've realised, if one just explored science than myth; encapsulated all that was true and discounted everything one was made to believe over the last 100 years, one could create something that addressed all the false perceptions in one simple blow and reveal the truth. About anything.

It is for that very reason I created Biryani360. Simple!

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