Ah Biriyani! There’s nothing quite like it, with its varied history you really feel like you’re biting into history, along with some delicious and succulent pieces of meat, seasoned to perfection with spice and mixed in rice. However, while we in Mumbai think we’ve got the perfect recipe, many people around our fair nation would disagree. We all do it just a little bit different, but as they say, variety is the spice of life. And this is spice like you can’t imagine. With decadent dishes like the Hyderabadi pakki biriyani to our very own Bombay biriyani oozing with potatoes, treat this as your “Biryaneopedia”. We’ll show you 10 regions where you get the most mouth smacking biriyani, with the options they serve and where. Consider this time to put work on hold and travel on a biriyani fuelled holiday.
I. Hyderabadi Biryani , Andhra Pradesh
Rumour has it that Biryani is secretly native to Hyderabad, which previously ruled by the Nizam, who ruled most of the Deccan at the time. As rice was a staple of the south, South India ended up having more varieties of biryani than the rest of the subcontinent. The hyderabadi in particular is a blend of the Mughlai and Iranian style of cooking. One of the key factors that make it stand out is the use of saffron and coconut. The biryani is also cooked in layers, which is actually extremely challenging. Unlike most other biryanis that are usually dominated with mutton or chicken gravy, the hyderabadi biryani prefers to use the saffron-mixed rice occasionally with brinjal gravy.
What Else You Should Try: The Kachchi Gosht Ki Biryani; which is prepared with meat marinated with spices overnight and soaked in yoghurt before cooking. The meat is sandwiched between layers of long-grained fragrant basmati rice and cooked on hot coats before sealing the vessel with dough. One wrong move and you risk over or under-cooking the meat. Pakki Biryani is another amazing option, the meat is marinated for a shorter time (thankfully) and cooked before being layered with rice and sealed in a vessel with dough, however in Pakki Aqni (with cooked gravy) the meat is cooked before baking.
Where: Hotel Shadab is one of the oldest and most popular hotels serving authentic Hyderabadi biryani and is the famous hyderabadi haleem lovated in Charminar, Telangana. Besides their biryani, you need to try their bheja fry, keema, gurday bhaji and paya. Worth every penny as the biryani amount is huge and the pieces of meat are generous. Another winner is Bawarchi, located at RTV Cross Roads and opposite Sandhya Theatre at Chikkadapalli, Hyderabad, this gives you the chicken/mutton biryani of your dreams. It was inaugurated by Sunil Shetty and has been in business for over 20 years. They boast of a special chicken biryani that has meat cooked deliciously with a roast on the outside and is completely tender and juicy.
II. Dindigul Biriyani, Tamil Nadu
Seekers of the Dindigul biryani need to visit Thalappakatti, where one man M. Nallathambi, 60, walks 20 km daily just to relish a plateful of mutton biryani. Now that’s dedication. The biryani in Thalappakatti is for Dindigul biryani loyalists only, despite people saying things like it’s a ‘poor man’s’ biryani. You are wrong people, if it takes a whole lot of people who are this dedicated to it, it has to be good.
What Else You Should Try: The dindigul biryani is one of its kind, with small cubes of buffalo meat flavoured with ginger, garlic, turmeric, red chili, cumin, coriander powder, tons of onion and tomato. The rice is very different, using thick curry and a jeera samba rice instead of basmati and a lot of pepper.
Where: Thalappakatti Restaurant; their first outlet was opened in 1957 at Dindigul and is probably the most authentic, though you can also try their 21 other restaurants in Dindigul, Chennai, Madurai, Batlagundu and Coimbatore. The Thalappakatti restaurants focus on biryani and only biryani.
III. Ambur Biryani, Tamil Nadu
The Ambur biryani is yet another biryani from a highway town in Tamil Nadu, and hence, has a typical South Indian twist in its preparation. This unique meaty dish is prepared in dried chilli paste and whole spices. It's hard to miss out on the Ambur biryani if you are in Tamil Nadu. Take a trip to the sleepy little town of Ambur and the first thing you’ll see is the innumerable biryani stalls dotting the Chennai-Bengaluru highway. You get chicken, mutton, beef and prawn as options, with the flavour of mint and coriander.
What Else You Should Try : Arcot Biryani; Introduced by the Nawabs of Arcot, this biryani originated in the towns of Ambur and Vaniyambadi in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. The biryani is generally accompanied by dalcha (a sour brinjal curry) and pachadi (a type of raita). The best known subvariety of the Arcot biryani is the Ambur biryani that uses the squat seeraga samba rice, a traditional Tamil Nadu variety. The highlight of this biryani is that chefs soak the meat in curd before adding it to the rice, which imparts a unique taste to the dish. Have it with onion raita and brinjal gravy. Brinjal masala is the perfect side-dish for this mouthwatering biryani .
Where: Star Biryani; one of the town’s well-known and oldest establishments. It all started with Hasin Baig, their great-grandfather, who is said to have cooked in the kitchens of the Arcot Nawabs. He brought what was once the food of the royals to the common man by opening a restaurant in his hometown, Ambur. Hasin’s son Khursheed then took over the business, which was then taken over by his son Nazeer Ahmed. In all, the family nurtures a 110-year-old biryani heritage.
IV. Bhatkali Biryani, Coastal Karnataka
The Bhatkali biryani is an integral part of the Navayath cuisine and a speciality of Bhatkal, a coastal town in Karnataka, where it is a must-have at wedding feasts. The meat is cooked in an onion and green chilli based masala and layered with fragrant rice. The Bhatkali biryani has a unique spicy and heady flavour that sets it apart from the other biryanis of coastal Karnataka. Though low on spice, the Bhatkali biryani has the right amount of flavour. This particular style originated from the Nawayath Muslim community of Bhatkal, in coastal Karnataka. They use a lot of onions, green chillies in their style of cooking - also in the layered format. Unlike Ambur biryani, in which mutton pieces are soaked in curd, Bhatkali biryani chefs cook mutton chicken pieces in curd. This eventually makes the biryani less spicy.
What Else You Should Try: Beary biryani; this comes from the Muslim community in Dakshina Kannada , a coastal district in Karnataka. Unlike most biryanis, this one is light and less spicy. It is a non-vegetarian's delight as it has chicken, mutton, fish, prawns and beef. It is flavoured with ghee and local spices and left to sit overnight so that the flavour spreads through the entire dish. Mutton is most commonly used and the rice is flavoured with star anise, saffron and other spices.
Where: Hotel Kwality, with ‘Kwality’ in the name, can you really expect anything to go bad? This restaurant is located in Bhatkal and hounded for people who’re still savouring the last time they had Bhatkali biriyani.
V. Lucknowi Biryani, Uttar Pradesh
While the cooking patterns of Lucknow are similar to those of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Northern India with the cuisine comprising both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, the Awadh region has been greatly influenced by Mughal cooking techniques, and the cuisine of Lucknow bears similarities to those of Central Asia, Kashmir, Punjab and Hyderabad. The Lucknowi biryani is heavily based on the Persian style of cooking and is made with the use of a completely different method known as dum pukht. As is the norm with most Persian food, the meat and gravy are partially cooked and then layered dum pukht style. Served in a sealed handi, Lucknowi biryani is the biryanis that’s light on the stomach as it’s low on spices.
What Else You Should Try: Awadh Biryani; probably the tastiest of all vegetarian biryanis with roasted spices that are ground to give the dish a piquant taste. Have it with ginger raita for a heavenly feast. The Tahiri/ Tehri biryani is also heavenly and a delight for vegetarians.The vegetable biryani was originally made for the Mahajan Hindus, who were the cashiers and financiers of the Nawabs. The ‘pulao’ also has some textured vegetable protein-based balls to present the impression of a meat-based dish for vegetarians. With some Fortune Biryani Special Basmati Rice, potatoes, onion, tomato, peas, ghee/oil for frying, you have yourself a meal. Also, a fun fact you might know know is that the difference between biryani and pulao is that while biryani is made cooking the items together, pulao is made when the rice is cooked separately from the other ingredients.
Where: Lalla’s Biryani is where you should be heading towards if you want to lay your hands on a colourful plate of piping hot Biryani. Lucknowi biryani is all about the perfect seasoning of the rice and the great precision in tenderising and cooking the meat to perfection and Lalla’s understands that. You can also try Wahid’s Biryani. Located in Aminabad’s market area of Lucknow, Wahid’s Biryani is the place to indulge in the authentic Awadhi flavours that will get you singing a tune as you try tender chunks of well cooked succulent meat sitting amidst the perfectly seasoned rice. Besides the biryani and the complimentary salads, they have some amazing chutneys and raitas, tunday kebabs and seekh kebabs.
VI. Kolkata Biryani, West Bengal
Banished by the British, the legendary gourmet Nawab Wajid Ali Shah tried to recreate his beloved dish in the city of Calcutta. Unable to afford meat due to budget constraints, the local cooks gave the recipe a tweak, replacing meat with perfectly cooked golden brown potatoes – the signature of the Calcutta biryani. So thank the British for this amazing meal, because it’s much lighter on spices, uses a yoghurt based marinade for the meat, which is cooked separately from the light yellow rice and makes you sigh with comfort after you devour it. Also, just like most Bengali dishes, the Calcutta biryani has a hint of sweetness hidden in it.
What Else You Should Try: Kolkata biryani; there’s no other variation of this as it’s a recipe that has its roots in the Nawabi style biryani of Lucknow. The Kolkata biryani is unique, thanks to its subtle use of spices combined with ghee, Basmati rice and mutton. The addition of potatoes and boiled eggs also lends a different flavour to the d dish. Use of nutmeg along with saffron and kewra gives this biryani its signature aroma.
Where: Nizam’s; located in the New Market area of Kolkata, this place is steeped in history and is the place for mughlai food you will never forget. Their biryanis are out of this world and the slight sweetness is tasty if a little outlandish. They often serve their biryani with cashew kismis and dry nuts which just adds to it.
VII. Malabar/ Thalassery Biryani, Kerala
The main difference between Thalassery biryani and other biryanis is that it uses only Khaima/Jeerakasala rice (a short-grain, thin rice which is also called biryani rice in Kerala.) The dish does not use basmati rice, which is normally a staple of biryanis.While most Biryani is of Mughal origin, this variant is an indigenous recipe of Malabar. Rumour has it that it may have come to the region because of the influence of the Muslim rulers of Mysore and Arkot. It is a reminder of the Mughal-Arab cultural influence in North Kerala due to the trade that lasted for many centuries before the 1900s and the emigration to the Middle East of locals from the 1970s onwards. Thalassery sea port was an export trade centre for spices where a convergence of European, Arab and Malabar cultures occurred and this may also have had an impact on the biryani. Malabar biryani, famous in Kozhikode, Thalassery and Malappuram areas of Kerala, is characterised by the unique variety of rice called khyma rice, the rich flavour of spices, and the generous usage of cashew nuts and raisins.Chefs in Kerala add these ingredients generously while preparing the biryani.The key difference lies in the method of preparation. The rice is cooked separately from mutton gravy and mixed well only at the time of serving.
What Else You Should Try: Rawther Biryani; yet another famous Kerala biryani is the one made by the Muslim Rawther community in and around Palakkad. It is accompanied by a particular type of gravy and has a distinct Southern flavour to it.
Where: Hotel Paragon; labelling itself the taste destination of Kerala, you’re never going to find a place more authentic than this one if you want to try Kerala’s most fantastic biryanis.
VIII. Bombay Biryani, Maharashtra
Much like its eponymous city, the Bombay biryani is a melting pot of flavours – spicy, hearty and zesty. The one major difference to other biryanis is that it contains a heck of a lot of potatoes, despite the chicken, mutton or veggies added to it. Like its Bengali counterpart, it also has a slight sweetness to it, which comes from dried plums and kewra water. It may not be as famous as the other varieties, but it wins hearts everywhere. The preparation uses a layered method, where half-cooked basmati rice and cooked meat are put on dum-style.
Where: Lucky’s Restaurant; Located at SV Road near Bandra Station, this is the place a Biryani lover should not miss, if they really and truly love biryani. Their chicken and mutton biryani are packed with flavor and a lot of meat. Other than biryani, their paya soup, bheja masala fry and Mutton Afghani are also legendary. You can also try the Persian Durbar; established in the year 1976 in Byculla East, this restaurant has been serving phenomenal mutton and chicken biryani for decades. Sweet tooths will also rejoice at their traditional caramel custard and firni.
IX.Kashmiri Biryani, Kashmir
In an earlier piece, we tackled Kashmiri cuisine and its influences from both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims. Owing to the proximity to Persia and Afghanistan where biryani first cropped up, it’s not that surprising that Kashmir has its own take on a biryani. People claim that this was a result of Mughal emperor’s frequent visit to Kashmir and influence in the region. Whatever the reason, we’re glad it’s there.
What Else You Should Try: Kashmiri Bhuna Ghosht Biryani, also known as Bhuna Ghosht and the Kashmiri Katche Ghosht ki Biryani are two of the most popular biryanis In Kashmir, made with a healthy dose of asafetida. It seems to be an amalgamation of multiple styles of biryani, but one thing stays true, the rice is fresh and fragrant and the meat is hearty, succulent and downright delicious.
X.Kampuri Biryani, Assam
The Kampuri biryani originated from the town of Kampur in Assam. A little-known biryani, which fuses the fresh flavours of local vegetables into meat, is an ode to the Assamese flair for creating distinctive dishes. In this simple yet delicious dish, the chicken is first cooked with peas, carrots, beans, potatoes, and yellow bell peppers. This concoction is then mildly spiced with cardamom and nutmeg before being mixed with the rice
Where: Mast Biryani
Words: Divija Mohan
Research: Meharunissa Sahib