As I went about getting ingredients to make Biryani, I reflected on how the city of Hyderabad is known for Hyderabadi Dum Biryani.
It’s become so famous that any other cuisine the culinary crowd is trying to introduce to the city is being bashed up or just closing down because all we want is Biryani!
In fact, the only way we can accept other cuisines is to have Biryani versions of them! Maybe a burger with biryani stuffed in them, or Chicken Wings with Biryani Masala or Pasta Biryani style and who knows, the Indian Chinese Chicken 65 could be Biryani 65!!
When you go back to the history of Biryani in Hyderabad, there are many myths and urban legends on it, with each one claiming it’s source as authentic.
But one aspect is true, Hyderabad being a former Nizam state under it’s rulers from the Nizam Dynasty, the Islamic tradition and culture completely dominated it when it came to food. It also added different flavours in it’s Biryani thanks to the Iranian, Arabic , Yemenese & Turkish inflow of people to the city.
Here, you find Irani cafes that is famous for it’s teas and biscuits and Islamic architecture spread over the older part of the city with a strong Turkish influence in it’s design.
Coming back to Biryani, there are different versions in Hyderabad that claim to be original but I can say without any doubt, if you are eating in a restaurant, no matter how famous or how old it is, it’s NOT the original.
The Best Biryanis are found in homes, but again not at any home, it has to be from the homes of Old Hyderabadi families that have kept the recipes alive, handed it over to the next generation and going about it quietly.
I feel happy to say I come from one of those old Hyderabadi families from my mother’s side. My mother’s family are part Portuguese- Part Goa -Part hyderabadi Christians.
My great grandfather moved to the city when he got married and he brought his young Gujarati wife to Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad. With the Anglo Indian and Islamic culture thriving side by side, it was but natural that the older families developed an affinity towards Islamic Hyderabadi cuisine and effortlessly adapted it to their food.
Meat being a big part in both the cultures meant adding more variations, flavours,adding spices but just the right amount so it could retain the original taste of meat.
When I got this recipe from my Aunt, my mother’s older sister, it was like taking over a treasure that was hidden for years! As she gave it to me, she told me that this recipe was originally made during my great grandfather’s time by the cooks called ‘Khansamas’ who were from the muslim community and knew how to make a ‘Real Biryani’.
I remember trembling when I heard this, because it meant that I had a huge responsibility preserving something that has been there for generations.
The actual Hyderabadi Biryani focuses on flavors, not on Masala. The spices are whole but never too much that it over rides the taste of the meat and rice. It is subtle and fragrant in taste with saffron,tender meat and herbs.
The Biryani is best paired with Salan – A Tangy tamarind based gravy that complements the slightly bland Hyderabadi Biryani and Raita – A thin yoghurt mixed with onions, tomatoes, coriander and green chilli that removes whatever spiceness you still might feel.. Added to that would be the Boiled egg that is served on top of the Biryani like a garnish.
So two days ago, all I wanted to do was to make Biryani for my loved ones as a good beginning to a new year.
It was a two day process. Marinating the meat in yoghurt and spices for 24 hours and collecting lots of herbs from my garden, layering, cooking for 4 hours , making the salan, gravies and finally sitting down to it with a Beer!
There is also a way to serve the biryani here. Gently scooping a corner from the Biryani pot so that all the layers are placed perfectly on your plate, then pouring hot Salan Gravy over it and topping it with boiled egg!
Savoring piping hot Biryani and your favorite cold beer with family and friends is a joy that is priceless. Conversations become robust, laughter is louder than ever before and every morsel with that succulent piece ofmeat takes you into ecstasy!
So next time, you want to have the original Hyderabadi Biryani, here are some points to follow;
- Research/stalk a person who comes from one of the old Hyderabadi families
- Pursue him/her until you get accepted into their circle of friendship!
- Then invite yourself to their homes on Sundays(‘cos that’s when they usually make it) or on special occasions/holidays
- Then just go the whole hog in lapping up one of the most delicious Biryanis you ever had!
Then you say your goodbye with Khuda Hafiz( may God be your guardian) for the delicious biryani you got to have thanks to your wonderful Hyderabadi friend 🙂