History Of Biriyani

Biriyani also known as biryani or biriani, is an South Asian mixed rice dish with its origins among the Muslims of the Medieval Indian subcontinent. It is popular throughout the subcontinent and among the diaspora from the region. It is generally made with spices, rice, and meat.


The word "Biriyani" is an Urdu word derived from the Persian language, which was used as an official language in different parts of medieval India, by various Islamic dynasties. One theory is that it originates from "birinj", the Persian word for rice. Another theory is that it derives from "biryan" or "beriyan" (to fry or roast).


The exact origin of the dish is uncertain. In North India, different varieties of Biriyani developed in the Muslim centers of Delhi (Mughlai cuisine), Lucknow (Awadhi cuisine) and other small principalities. In South India, where rice is more widely used as a staple food, several distinct varieties of Biriyani emerged from Telangana (Specifically Hyderabad), Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, where minority Muslim communities were present. Andhra is the only region of South India that does not have many native varieties of Biriyani.

According to the Delhi based historian Sohail Nakhwi, more than four thousand years ago, people in Central Asia started adding the meat of cows, buffaloes (beef) and goats (mutton) to rice, thus resulting in the dish that later began to be called Pulao, and a precursor to the modern day Biriyani. The more well to do people used the meat of goat (it being more expensive) and the poorer people used beef (it being cheaper). As per author Lizzie Collingham, the modern Biriyani further developed in the Mughal royal kitchen, as a confluence of the native spicy rice dishes of India and the Persian pilaf. However, all the spices used in Biriyani were also grown in Persia and were also available to Arabs through trade.

According to Kris Dhillon, the modern Biriyani originated in Persia, and was brought to India by the Mughals. However, another theory claims that the dish was known in India before the first Mughal emperor Babur came to India. The 16th century Mughal text Ain-i-Akbari makes no distinction between Biriyanis and pulao: it states that the word "Biriyani" is of older usage in India. A similar theory—that Biriyani came to India with Timurs invasion—also appears to be incorrect, because there is no record of Biriyani having existed in his native land during that period.

According to Pratibha Karan, the Biriyani is of South Indian origin, derived from pilaf varieties brought to India by the Arab traders. She speculates that the pulao was an army dish in medieval India: the armies, unable to cook elaborate meals, would prepare a one-pot dish where they cooked rice with whichever meat was available. Over time, the dish became Biriyani due to different methods of cooking, with the distinction between "pulao" and "Biriyani" being arbitrary.

While the Middle eastern and Middle Asian versions of Biriyani and Pulao are made on the tandoor, Biriyani in the Indian subcontinent is made in a large metal dish with a narrow mouth called a "degh".

Difference between Biriyani and pulao

Pilaf or Pulao, as it is known in the South Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, is another mixed rice dish popular in Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern cuisine. Opinions differ on the differences between pulao and Biriyani, and whether there is a difference between the two at all.

According to Delhi-based historian Sohail Nakhvi, Pulao tends to be (comparatively) plainer than the Biriyani and consists of either vegetables or meat cooked with rice. Biriyani on the other hand contains more gravy (due to the use of yakhni in it), is often cooked for longer (hence yielding more tender meat or vegetables) and with additional condiments. Pratibha Karan states that while the terms are often applied arbitrarily, the main distinction is that a Biriyani comprises two layers of rice with a layer of meat (or vegetables) in the middle; the pulao is not layered.

Colleen Taylor Sen lists the following three distinctions between Biriyani and pulao:

Biriyani is the primary dish in a meal, while the pulao is usually a secondary accompaniment in a larger meal In Biriyani, meat and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together. Pulao is a single-pot dish: meat and rice are simmered in a liquid until the liquid is absorbed. However, some other writers, such as Holly Shaffer (based on her observations in Lucknow), R. K. Saxena and Sangeeta Bhatnagar have reported pulao recipes in which the rice and meat are cooked separately and then mixed before the dum cooking.
Biriyanis have more complex and stronger spices, compared to pulao. The British-era author Abdul Halim Sharar mentions this as the primary difference between Biriyani and pulao: the Biriyani has a stronger taste of curried rice due to a higher amount of spices.


Ingredients vary accord to type of meat used and the region the Biriyani is from. Gosht (of either chicken or mutton) as the prime ingredient with rice. As is common in dishes of the Indian subcontinent, some vegetables are also used when preparing Biriyani. Other vegetables such as corn also may be used depending on the season and availability. Navratan Biriyani tends to use sweeter richer ingredients such as cashew, kismis and fruits such as apples and pineapples.
The spices and condiments used in Biriyani may include ghee (clarified butter), nutmeg, mace, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, onions, and garlic. The premium varieties include saffron. In all Biriyani, the main ingredient that accompanies the spices is the chicken and mutton, special varieties also use beef, and seafood. The dish may be served with dahi chutney or raita, korma, curry, a sour dish of aubergine (brinjal), boiled egg (optional), and salad.


In the kacchi Biriyani, raw marinated meat is layered with raw rice before being cooked together.It is also known as kacchi yeqni. It is cooked typically with chicken and mutton but rarely with fish and prawn. The dish is cooked layered with the meat and the yogurt based marinade at the bottom of the cooking pot and the layer of rice (usually basmati rice) placed over it. Potatoes are often added before adding the rice layer. The pot is usually sealed (typically with wheat dough) to allow cooking in its own steam and not opened until it is ready to serve.


Tahari, Tehri or Tehari are variants on the name given to the vegetarian version of Biriyani. It was developed for the Hindu bookkeepers of the Muslim Nawabs. It is prepared by adding the potatoes to the rice as opposed to the case of traditional Biriyani, where the rice is added to the meat. In Kashmir, Tehari is sold as street food. Tehri became more popular during World War II, when meat prices increased substantially and potato became the popular substitute in Biriyani. It is not really considered to be part of the Biriyani family in its true sense.

Beef Biriyani

Beef Biriyani, as the name implies, uses beef as meat. In Hyderabad, it is famous as Kalyani Biriyani, in which beef (buffalo meat) is used in preparing the Kalyani Biriyani. This meal was started after the Kalyani Nawabs of Bidar came to Hyderabad sometime in the 18th century. The Kalyani Biriyani is made with small cubes of beef, regular spices, onions and lots of tomatoes. It has a distinct tomato, jeera, dhania flavour. In Kerala, beef Biriyani is very famous.

List of varieties by region or culture

Thalassery Biriyani.

Depending on the region and the condiments available and popular in that region, there are different varieties of Biriyani. The variety often takes the name of the region (for example, Sindhi Biriyani developed in the Sindh region of what is now Pakistan, Hyderabadi Biriyani developed in the city of Hyderabad in South India, etc.). Some have taken the name of the shop that sells it (for example: Students Biriyani in Karachi, Lucky Biriyani in Bandra, Mumbai and Baghdadi Biriyani in Colaba, Mumbai). Biriyanis are often specific to the respective Muslim community from where it comes, as it is usually the defining dish of that community. Cosmopolitanism has also created these native version to suit the tastes of others as well.

Delhi Biriyani

The Delhi version of the Biriyani developed with a unique local flavor as the Mughal kings shifted their political capital to the North Indian city of Delhi. Till the 1950s, most people cooked Biriyani in their house and rarely ate out. Hence, restaurants primarily catererd to travelers and merchants, hence any region that saw more of these two classes of people nurtured more restaurants, and thus their own versions of Biriyani. As per Nakhwi, this was the reason why most shops historically selling Biriyani in Delhi tend to be near mosques such as Jama Masjid (for travelers) or traditional shopping districts (such as Chandni Chowk). Each part of Delhi has its own style of Biriyani, often based on its original purpose thus giving rise to Nizamuddin Biriyani, Shahjahanabad Biriyani, etc. The Nizamuddin Biriyani is usually sparse in the more expensive meat and spices as it was primarily meant to be made in bulk for offering at the Nizamuddin Dargah shrine and thereafter to distribute to devotees. A non-dum using a lot of green chillies variety of Biriyani popularized by the Babu Shahi Bawarchi shop located outside National Sports Club, Delhi is informally called Babu Shahi Biriyani. Another version of Delhi Biriyani uses achaar (pickles) and is called "Achaari Biriyani".

Sindhi Biriyani

The exotic and aromatic Sindhi Biriyani is known in Pakistan for its spicy taste, fragrant rice and delicate meat. Sindhi Biriyani is a beloved staple in food menus in the Pakistani cuisine and Sindhi cuisine. Sindhi Biriyani is prepared with meat and an amalgamation of Basmati rice, vegetables and various types of spices. Sindhi Biriyani is often served by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in most of their international flights. A special version of Sindhi Biriyani sold by a shop in Karachi called "Students center" is popularly called "Students Biriyani".

Hyderabadi Biriyani

Hyderabadi Biriyani is one of India's most famous Biriyanis; some say Biriyani is synonymous with Hyderabad. The crown dish of the Hyderabadi Muslims, Hyderabadi Biriyani developed under the rule of Asaf Jah I, who had been appointed as the Governor of Deccan by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It is made with basmati rice, spices and goat. Popular variations use chicken instead of goat. There are various forms of Hyderabadi Biriyani. One such Biriyani is the kachay gosht ki Biriyani or the dum Biriyani, where the mutton is marinated and cooked along with the rice. It is left on slow fire or dum for a fragrant and aromatic flavour.

Malabar Biriyani

Malabar Biriyani, is the only variation of Biriyani found in the Indian state of Kerala. It is one of the many dishes of the Malabar Muslim community, and a very popular one at that. The ingredients are chicken, spices and the specialty is the choice of rice named Khyma. Khyma rice is generally mixed with ghee. Although a huge amount of spices such as mace, cashew nuts, sultana raisins, fennel-cumin seeds, tomato, onion, ginger, garlic, shallot, cloves and cinnamon are used, there is only a small amount of chili (or chili powder) used in the preparation.

A pakki Biriyani, the Thalassery Biriyani uses a small-grained thin (not round) fragrant variety of rice known as Khyma or Jeerakasala. The dum method of preparation (sealing the lid with dough (maida) or cloth and placing red hot charcoal above the lid) is applied here.

Calcutta/Kolkata Biriyani

Calcutta or Kolkata Biriyani evolved from the Lucknow style, when Awadh's last Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was exiled in 1856 to the Kolkata suburb of Metiabruz. Shah brought his personal chef with him. The poorer households of Kolkata, which could not afford meat, used potatoes instead, which went on to become a specialty of the Calcutta Biriyani. The Calcutta Biriyani primarily uses potatoes and eggs.

The Calcutta Biriyani is much lighter on spices and sometimes contains meat. The marinate primarily uses nutmeg, cinnamon, mace along with cloves and cardamom in the yoghurt based marinade for the meat which is cooked separately from rice. This combination of spices gives it a distinct flavour as compared to other styles of Biriyani. The rice is flavoured with ketaki water or rose water along with saffron to give it flavour and light yellowish colour.

Ambur/Vaniyambadi Biriyani

Ambur/Vaniyambadi Biriyani is a type of Biriyani cooked in neighboring towns of Ambur & Vaniyambadi in the Vellore district in the north-eastern part of Tamil Nadu, which has a high Muslim population. It was introduced by the Nawabs of Arcot who once ruled the place.

The Ambur/Vaniyambadi Biriyani is accompanied with 'dhalcha', a sour brinjal curry and 'pachadi' or raitha, which is sliced onions mixed with plain curd, tomato, chillies and salt. It has a distinctive aroma and is considered light on stomach and the usage of spice is moderate and curd is used as a gravy base. It also has a higher ratio of meat to rice.

Bhatkali/Navayathi Biriyani

The is an integral part of the Navayath cuisine and a speciality of Bhatkal, a coastal town in Karnataka. Its origins are traced to the Persian traders who left behind not only Biriyani but a variation of kababs and Indian breads. Bhatkali Biriyani the meat is cooked in an onion and green chilli based masala and layered with fragrant rice. The Bhatkali Biriyani has a unique spicy and heady flavour, the rice is overwhelmingly white with mild streaks of orange. Though similar to the ones in Thalassery and Kozhikode, the Biriyani differs with lingering after-notes of mashed onions laced with garlic, a few chillies and spices littered with curry leaves does lend a unique flavour to Bhatkal Biriyani also not a drop of ghee or other oil additives on any morsel of rice.

Memoni/Kutchi Biriyani

Memoni Biriyani is an extremely spicy variety developed by the Memons of Gujarat-Sindh region in India and Pakistan. It is made with lamb, yogurt, fried onions, and potatoes, and fewer tomatoes compared to Sindhi Biriyani. Memoni Biriyani also uses less food colouring compared to other Biriyanis, allowing the rich colours of the various meats, rice, and vegetables to blend without too much of the orange colouring.

Dindigul Biriyani

The Dindigul town of Tamil Nadu is noted for its Biriyani, which uses a little curd and lemon juice to get a tangy taste.

Bohri Biriyani

The Bohri Biriyani, prepared by the Bohris is flavoured with a lot of tomatoes. It is very popular in Karachi.

Kalyani Biriyani

Kalyani Biriyani is a typical Biriyani from Hyderabad. Also known as the 'poor man's' Hyderabadi Biriyani, the Kalyani Biriyani is always made from small cubes of buffalo meat.

The meat is flavoured with ginger, garlic, turmeric, red chili, cumin, coriander powder, lots of onion and tomato. It is first cooked as a thick curry and then cooked along with rice. Then given dum (the Indian method of steaming in a covered pot). The Kalyani Biriyani is supposed to have originated in the Bidar during the reign of the Kalyani Nawabs, who migrated to Hyderabad after one of the nawabs, Ghazanfur Jang married into the Asaf Jahi family. The Kalyani Biriyani was served by the Kalyani nawabs to all of their subjects who came from Bidar to Hyderabad and stayed or visited their devdi or noble mansion.

This was the practice for many decades. But after Operation Polo in which the Indian army took over Hyderabad State, the state of the nobles went into decline. Some of their illustrious cooks set up their own stalls and introduced the Kalyani Biriyani to the local populace of Hyderabad.

International styles and variations


A different dish called "Biryan" is popular in Afghanistan. Biryan traces its origins to the same source as Biriyani, and is today sold in Afghanistan as well as in Bhopal, India. Biryan is prepared by cooking Gosht and rice together, but without the additional gravy (Yakhni) and other condiments that are used in Biriyani. The Delhi based historian Sohail Hashmi refers to the Biryan as midway between the Pulao and Biriyani. The Afghani Biriyani tends to use a lot of dry fruit and lesser amounts of meat, often cut in tiny pieces.


A dish of Burmese Biriyani (locally known as danpauk), as served at Kyet Shar. In Myanmar (Burma), Biriyani is known in Burmese as danpauk  or  danbauk, from Persian dum pukht. Featured ingredients include cashew nuts, yogurt, raisins and peas, chicken, cloves, cinnamon, saffron and bayleaf. In Burmese Biriyani, the chicken is cooked with the rice. Biriyani is also eaten with a salad of sliced onions and cucumber.

Middle East (Arab nations)

One form of "Arabic" Biriyani is the Iraqi preparation (برياني: "Biriyani"), where the rice is usually saffron-based with chicken usually being the meat or poultry of choice. Most variations also include vermicelli, fried onions, fried potato cubes, almonds and raisins spread liberally over the rice. Sometimes, a sour/spicy tomato sauce is served on the side (maraq).


During the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736), a dish called Berian (Nastaliq script: بریان پلو) was made with lamb or chicken, marinated overnight – with yogurt, herbs, spices, dried fruits like raisins, prunes or pomegranate seeds – and later cooked in a tannour oven. It was then served with steamed rice.


Nasi kebuli is an Indonesian spicy steamed rice dish cooked in goat broth, milk and ghee. Nasi kebuli is descended from Kabuli Palaw which is an Afghani rice dish, similar to Biriyani served in South Asia. Whatever the history may be or may be said but our Head Cook – Diana Wilson says that we serve the true taste of Chennai / Madrasapattinam and our home made Biriyani can be called as Madras Biriyani / Madraspattinam Biriyani / Chennai Biriyani which is cooked to the taste buds of Madrasi / Chennaites..