There is nothing as comforting as digging into a biryani and feeling the miscellany of mouthwatering flavours burst in your mouth. Just a mere mention of the name gets many of us salivating. It is believed that this rich delicacy of rice and spices invaded our food spaces when the Mughals came to India. Since then, the biryani has adapted and adjusted to regional tastes and preferences, enriched by tweaks and innovations over the years.
Whether it is the saffron and the coconut of the Hyderabadi biryani, or the fragrant restraint of its Lucknowi cousin, or the potatoes that add textural heft to the Bombay variation, there are plenty of contenders for the spot of top Indian biryani.
Here are five of my favourite regional interpretations.
1. Hyderabadi biryani
A temptation concocted in the land of the Nizams, this delicious concoction of basmati rice and lamb meat or chicken served with yogurt and onions is sure to make you lick your fingers and smack your lips. The use of saffron and coconut is what sets this biryani apart from the rest. One popular variation is the dum biryani, wherein the meat is marinated and cooked with the rice on a slow flame, letting the juices from the succulent meat engulf the rice. Try it at Paradise, Hyderabad.
2. Lucknowi Biryani
Lucknow and biryani are almost synonymous with each other. The result of culinary experiments in nawabi kitchens, this biryani (also called Awadhi biryani) is made using the dum pukht technique: the meat and the gravy are tightly sealed in a handi or a heavy bottomed pot and cooked over a slow flame. This process is what makes the biryani so flavourful and delicious. Lightly spiced and packed with delicate flavours, it makes up for royal treat. It's best had at one of the hole-in-the-wall eateries in the Chowk area. Many people swear by Idrish, if you don't mind a somewhat grubby ambience.
3. Kolkata Biryani
The hallmark of this biryani is the use of potatoes and eggs, along with kewra and rose, making the rice fragrant and flavourfully fantastic. It's an offshoot of the Lucknowi biryani, having originated from the Awadh royal family, which migrated to Kolkata with a coterie of cooks. The meat is marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked separately from the rice and then layered.
4. Malabar Biryani
Milder on the spices and with a slightly sweet taste, Malabar biryani is a popular dish in Kerala. It is characterised by the unique khyma rice and generous use of cashews and raisins. The rice and the meat are cooked separately and then layered in a narrow-necked pot and steamed, ensuring that the flavors of the meat completely encompass the rice. It is often served with a simple raw mango, coconut and green chili pepper chutney that injects that extra zing.
5. Bombay biryani
Potatoes are the humble star of this spicy iteration of the biryani and are a must in both the veg and non-veg versions. The preparation uses a layered method, where half-cooked basmati rice and cooked meat are prepared in the dum style.
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