Biryani any which way you like it
Kacchi Biryani is probably the most delicious way to get this dish on the table but with the diversity of the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people and the fact that South-east Asia is a huge melting pot of nomads that seem to take their Pressure cookers and heavy duty Mixies with them everywhere, food is bound to follow and more importantly acquire local flavors.
On a visit to Singapore one summer, the family I was visiting in serene Orchid Park at Yishun took me on a walk around their beautiful condo and with the multitude of people in the complex, I truly felt at peace – until when ambling along under a window facing the street, I almost jumped out of my skin. The piercing ‘Twooooosh’ of steam letting off from a pressure cooker slammed home the fact that the Indian pressure cooker is like the proverbial Malayali chai chap on the moon. I thought to myself…How much has the Pressure Cooker influenced the way food is cooked in Chinese heavy Singapore or Malaysia or Thailand? But let’s get back to the matter at hand. The variations of Biryani across the world now poked and prodded and in another state of flux because of the world wide web.
So how has Biryani changed with geography?
The region that broadly makes up for the Awadh or the Awadhi region has spawned the Awadhi cuisine or Sindhi cuisine and because the Sindhi’s spill over into Eastern Pakistan, the influences of Pakistani cuisine are very strong. I am not sure if it is because potato is such a surplus crop in that region or just the fact that the Sindhis and Pakistani and Punjabi are so closely knit, but Sindhi Biryani somehow incorporates potatoes with the meat thus giving the biryani a starchy variant and tweaking the earthy flavor of the end product. Remember that the rice eaters are primarily born in the South and the North is quite happy with wheat and wheat products and tend to favor the tubers and therefore this variation is all but natural. But ask the Hyderabadi what he does not like about the potato biryani’s of Sindh and Calcutta and he will tell you the killing argument that settles superiority or rather the lack of it – is the fact that adding Potato makes the starch get the rice sticky….stickier than a Hyderabadi would prefer. There lies the big difference. The Nawab likes to feel the grains of rice separate out nice and easy!
To the PhD laureate on Biryani, there is no question. It’s either Mutton or young Goat that forms a base for Biryani. Ask the Health nut and they are possibly the reason white meats made their way to Biryani. Or maybe Coastal surplus of Shrimp. Or just the experiment of human curiosity. Shrimp makes some awesome Biryani. Malabar cuisine does it one better. The Coconut Shrimp Biryani is to die for. With its heady pepper and Clove combination finished off with aromatic garam masala, the Malabari Shrimp Biryani is a worthy variant. The trick with the Shrimp biryani is that it has to be Pakki Biryani because Shrimp does not take very kindly to being cooked too long. The delicate and tender white meats cook rather fast and they need a quick and easy way to infuse into the layers of rice. So watch out for that if you experiment with Shrimp Biryani. You can look at a
Calcutta Biryani or Kolkata Biryani / Bangla Biryani
Like the Biryani of Sindh, the addition of Potato because of Sindhi and Oudh influences (Southern Calcutta seems to have had a heavy influence of the Sindhi Matiya Burj area) It probably caused the Calcuttan to resort to adding potatoes to their biryani to give it more substance. The origins date to the late 18th century and poorer homes that could not afford the luxury of meat. Whatever the reason, Calcutta biryani is more Pulau like with potatoes. Further up North East, in Burma the dish making Burmese Biryani is referred to as Dunpauk
Iranian Beryani or Persian Biryani or the Iriani or Turkish Pilaff variant
In Iran, Turkey and the Middle East including Oman and Saudi, the variant of Biryani is largely with veal or beef or dry baked mutton and offal meats that are stewed and minced separately and sometimes charred over slow fire to be added to Beryani. This style of cooking stretches from the Northwest frontier cuisine to the Western parts of Turkey and is traditionally a mixture of Dum Pukht and it is not unusual to see drier meats served on a base of steamed and flavoured rice rather than infused or cooked together. In Saudi and Oman and parts of the Gulf of Arabia, the tradition is to allow the Dum to be buried in desert sand and the meats are left on the Dum sometimes overnight and they tend to make to meat very dry and devoid of moisture and the dish is rather bland as opposed to spicy like Indian biryani’s.
Kozhikode Biryani or Kochi Biryani
The Kozhikode Biriyani variant of biryani is very popular with the Malabaris or Malabar Cuisine or the kerala cuisine. Biryani is as popular on the coast of Kerala as it is in the rest of the country. It differs from Biryani found elsewhere simply because if incorporates local abundance. Shrimp is more popular. Coconut and addition of Cocunut milk, paste and cooking over coconut shells is popular. Addition of locally found cashew, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon add delicious twists to this popular dish.
The Thai variety of the dish, known locally as Khao mok Gai , The name translates to “buried chicken rice” and is the Thai version of a biryani and being a Thai-Muslim dish it is atypical and different because it has spices not typically associated with Thai food. Some recipes use coconut milk while others use regular milk and butter. What is also different is the heavy use of sliced cucumber to form a bed and deep fried shallots on the top which give it a unique flavor. Singapore has a variant called Singapore Chicken rice that is popular in those parts.
Sri Lankan Biryani
Sri Lankan biryani is surprisingly spicier than Indian varieties because of the heavy use of Chilli paste and vinegar. The Srilakan use of Sambol and Cashew curry together with Biryani give it an unusual flavor. Locally Srilankans also like beans and string hoppers as an accompaniment together with scrambled eggs and vegetables.The funny thing with the Srilankans is the similar thing to the Andhras obsession with Curry leaves. Rampe is an aromatic leaf found locally which looks like the leaf of lily plant. It is extensively used in Srilankan cuisine and Srilankan cooking along with curry leaves. It is also known as Panduan or Theoy. It is a great substitute for Bay leaves used in Indian Biryani. There is of course the great influence of coconut milk as in all coastal cuisines. If you ever get to Ceylon as I remember it, a good Sinhalese beer and drowned in the local music called the Baila accompanied by Rampe laced Biryani and you are in a sweet heaven!!
Malaysia’s Nasi Beriani
In Malaysia and Singapore, the dish is called Nasi Beriani or Nasi beriani gam. The recipe while being essentially the same has fan following in Batu Pahat, Muar and Johar region where the population is largely muslim. The Malaysian biryanis are sweeter to a degree and bear local influences.
This is a special variety of Biryani that is made very differently. It has become popular only in the last 10 years or so and is usually found in the Northern parts of the Americas…particularly in the United States of America. You step into your drive, start up your car and get to the nearest Hyderabadi joint. $20 and you have a neatly packaged aluminum foil deep dish. It comes out of a freezer and takes all of 3 minutes. Thanks to modern technology, you don’t ask how it is made and where it originates and the last time I was curious I asked the Mexican lady who was at the counter of this Pakistani store on Devon. Madame, where is this Biryani made. Without blinking an eyelid she said “China”. I almost spat out my gum. I asked her “Are you sure”? She looked at my very horribly like I was an idiot. Turned the aluminium pack over and there I saw it. Clearly marked in black and white on the bottom of that fancy packaging it said plain as day…. “Made in China”