Image by 2sif Farooqui from Pixabay 

As a child, I was always fond of exploring new cuisines, mainly because of the culinary expertise that people around me possessed. But out of the many delicacies I had tried, biryani seemed to have made the greatest ‘assault’ on my taste buds, and because of which, it earned a place as one of my most loved dishes.

And like me, millions of Indians have given this mouth-watering dish a place in their hearts. And this statement is supported by the fact that today, biryani peaks the ladder as the most ordered food online. A report published by the Indian Express found that “in 2021, India ordered two biryanis per second”. This report also showed that chicken biryani was on top people’s wish lists in four major cities- Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, and Hyderabad.

However, this popularity has not cropped up overnight. A significant amount of history is associated with the biryani’s introduction to India, and many events have helped it reach its place today.

This article is just an attempt by an average biryani-fanatic to spread the word about its birth, its introduction of it to the Indians, how it was able to merge itself smoothly with the flavors of the subcontinent despite being utterly alien to the Indian folks, and how the different regions of the country have come up with a variation of their own. But, the fundamental purpose of this work is to opine why- biryani is a symbol of India’s most significant value, i.e., “unity in diversity.” So, prepare your tastebuds and join me as I celebrate our amazing and beloved India with biryani flavors.

Origins of Biryani in India

I would consider it a lie if someone told me they did not know what biryani is. Still, I would like to present a brief overview of biryani to those unfortunate people who haven’t had the good luck of encountering this mind-blowing dish in any form.

Biryani is a spice-filled flavourful rice dish with a chicken, beef, mutton, or prawn base. It is often cooked in large pots or, as it is called in India, kadhai. Primarily consumed in the subcontinental parts of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, the dish takes an average of 4-5 hours to cook and incorporates spices like cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, mace, black stone leaves, fennel seed, bay leaf, nutmeg, saffron, rose water and star anise. The dish particularly gets more flavourful if the meat to be put into it is spiced up, greased up with some yogurt, and marinated for a long time. The longer the marination, the more is the taste. This simple yet scrumptious dish is usually served with some raita, a creamy yogurt preparation, and tomato and cucumber salad.

Now that everyone reading it knows what biryani is, let me take you back to history classes and tell you about how this dish originated in India.

Although countless theories are regrading the origin of biryani, two of them are most prominent- one that involves Timur, the conqueror, and the other that revolves around Mumtaz Mahal, Mughal badshah Shah Jahan’s beloved wife. Her love inspired the emperor to build one of the ‘wonders of the world,’ the Taj Mahal.

The first legend is that the Turk-Mongol conqueror, Timur, brought the precursor to the biryani with him when he arrived at the frontiers of India in 1398. Believed to be the war campaign diet of Timur’s army, an earthen pot full of rice, spices, and whatever meats were available would be buried in a hot pit before being eventually dug up and served to the warriors.

Some also believe that the dish was brought to the southern Malabar coast of India by Arab traders who were frequent visitors there. There are records of a rice dish known as Oon Soru in Tamil literature as early as the year 2 A.D. Oon Soru was said to be made of rice, ghee, meat, turmeric, coriander, pepper, and bay leaf and was used to feed military warriors.

But the front-runner among the theories is Mumtaz’s. It is believed that Mumtaz had once visited the barracks of the Mughal army. There she found out that the soldiers were weak and did not have proper nourishment. Distraught by sight, she ordered the royal bawarchis or chefs to prepare a dish combining rice, meat, and spices, thus giving birth to the biryani.

The dish, mainly prepared and consumed by the royals, soon crossed the charters to reach the commoner. In the next section, we will discover how exactly people in India receive it and how the dish molds into different regional variations.

The biryani of different kinds - Regionalization of the dish

Going by the stories, it can be argued that biryani was invented to give adequate to the men who served in the military. However, many inventions lost their intended purpose and developed a new meaning. And biryani fills that category effortlessly. With its inception, the subcontinental folks tasted a whole new rice preparation. And the spellbound taste of the dish made people share the recipe and eat it, helping it spread like wildfire. And as time passed, it reached more and more mouths.

This widespread acceptance of the dish helped it garner different variations as per the resources available to people in the other parts of India.

Today, there are more than twenty variations of biryani in the Indian peninsula, and delving deep into everyone would make this a novel. Thus, I’ll look into the seven most popular varieties.

1. Hyderabadi biryani

In the late 1600s, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb conquered Hyderabad and made it a subordinate of his empire, which was left under the supervision of Nawab Niaz ul-Mulk. In the emperor’s honor, the Nawab arranged a grand feast, and the granddaddy of biryanis was born during this feast.

The traditional Hyderabadi Biryani today is made using raw goat meat that is marinated and cooked for hours together with saffron-flavored rice until the meat's flavors permeate into every grain of rice. Fried onions, also known as Birista, mint and coriander leaves, and spices are added to the Biryani for a rich and wholesome flavor.

2. Calcutta biryani

This Awadhi biryani style came to Kolkata along with Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (ruler of Awadh) when he was deported and asked to take over the reins of Bengal by the British Raj. This Awadhi biryani developed into an altered form in Kolkata, including the addition of deep-fried potatoes by the masses to replace meat - a relatively expensive food item. Nowadays, the Kolkata biryani is cooked using nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon, mace, cloves, cardamom, soft-boiled eggs, yogurt marinated meat, and of course, fried potato. A unique ingredient - rose water gets sprinkled on top of the biryani, lends an incredibly unique and memorable flavor to this biryani.

3. Awadhi biryani

The King of all biryanis, the Awadhi biryani, was made by the Mughal Khansamahs in Awadh in the 18th century. The Awadhi biryani is cooked in the Dum method, where the meat is marinated with spices and partially cooked, separately from the rice, which is flavored with saffron, cinnamon, and star anise. The heart and rice are then added together in a Handi in separate layers and cooked over a low flame for hours until the flavors seep through the heart, making it uber soft, succulent, and flavorsome.

4. Memoni biryani

The Memons make this extremely spicy variety of the Gujarat-Sindh region. Usually made with lamb, yogurt, browned onions, and potatoes, Memoni biryani uses less food coloring than other biryanis. This allows the natural colors and flavors of the various components- meat, rice, and vegetables – to emerge and shine in this traditional dish.

5. Degh ki biryani

Degh ki Biryani is famous in Parbhani in Maharashtra, ironically known as the 'Land of Saints.’ This biryani is typically made using tiny cubes of either beef or mutton. The meat must be marinated with a concoction of ginger, garlic, red chili powder, cumin powder, garam masala, yogurt, and fried onions. Degh Biryani gets its name from the vessel in which it is cooked using the dum method, the Deghchi. This biryani, also known as Kacche Gosht Ki Biryani, is traditionally served in marriages across the country.

6. Kashmiri or Tahari biryani

The Kashmiri Biryani, also known as Tahari biryani, was first brought into existence by the Kashmiri Pandits or the Hindu bookkeepers of the Muslim Nawabs. It was prepared by adding potatoes to the rice in place of meat and is thus a purely vegetarian biryani. The Tahari Biryani today is made using a lot of vegetables but without any onion or garlic. Hing or asafoetida is used as a substitute for onion and garlic in this biryani. Fennel powder, dry ginger powder, and garam masala add to the flavor and aroma of this delectable dish. The Tahari biryani is garnished with fried or sautéed cashews and raisins that lend a sweet taste to this unique biryani. The Tahari biryani is a befitting answer to all those who swear on the fact that biryani is delicious only when made with meat.

7. Dindigul biryani

A much-loved local favorite, Chennai has many outlets dedicated to serving just the Dindigul biryani. The jeera samba rice used in making this biryani is distinctive and gives it an entirely different flavor. Also, instead of large chunks of meat, Dindigul biryani uses tiny cube-sized meat pieces. Curd and lemon lend the tangy biryani taste, while the liberal use of pepper leaves its fiery mark on the palate.


In this world of seven billion people, everyone has a different taste. In India, a wide array of flavors, cultures, beliefs, and practices; among them, biryani has come and conquered everyone’s palette. This sense of oneness makes India a special place, and we all should be proud of this fantastic collaboration of diverse yet unified flavors. 

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