If you imagine luxury and lavishness in food, it is here in the north. Life itself was an extravagance. Did not the Nawabs of Awadh, the Mughals, the rulers of Kashmir, Rajasthan and other princely states live a life of Epicureanism with fullness and abundance? Frau, firewater and food were the order of the day, with food playing a formidable role. The meat was delicious and the spices were rare, the curries were mostly thick, moderately spicy and creamy. The dramatic use of raisins, prunes, apricots, pistachios, almonds, cashews, and pine nuts was quite common, even in everyday foods. Dairy products such as milk, cream, cottage cheese, ghee and yogurt added a sense of opulence, daring and hauteur to the dishes. From this breeding and blood relationship comes the northern version of our favorite dish, the Mutton Biryani.
Starting with the Lucknowi Pulao, there are many places where you can get a Biryani in Lucknow. But the old decrepit, haughty, remnant Nawabs or Khansaamas, who claim to trace their lineage back to the days of Wajid Ali Shah (Nawab of Lucknow), who now earns a few bucks entertaining gaping tourists and monarchists with food and fable of the bygone times, claim that Biryani was never traditionally made in the courts of Awadh, it was always a pulao. This brings us to the immortal argument about the difference between a Pulao and a Biryani. As much as I’d like to, I don’t think I’m qualified enough to debate this matter, but the generally accepted view is that a pulao is made by sautéing meat, adding uncooked rice, and cooking both in the stock. . While the biryani is raw or semi-cooked rice layered over cooked meat. Though there are some who say there is no difference except that biryani is richer than a pulao and that is the only difference. This is what I believe a Lucknow Pulao is, it is long grain basmati rice cooked in aromatic spiced mutton broth, to which marinated meat and saffron are added after they are half cooked. Then cooked together. The pulao is not as oily as a biryani and is softer, more subtle and more aromatic with the essences of rose water and kewra.
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The Moradabadi cuisine itself is fascinating. Since Moradabad itself was founded by Murad Baksh, the youngest son of Shah Jahan and a strong believer in a harmonious fusion of the country’s Rajput roots with its Mughal influences, the cuisine has grown into a compelling blend of traditions, culture and community influences. So the Moradabadi Biryani, a product of this marriage, classically contains little spice and a lot of flavor. The Moradabadi Biryani is cooked with ‘kaccha’ Basamati using whole (khada) spices, and appears slightly pale yellowish white due to the absence of turmeric or saffron. It is a mildly scented, simple pulao like biryani, which is increasingly being made with chicken instead of mutton. Of course, food historians vehemently scoff at the Morabadi Biryani. Their view is that since Moradabad was never a state ruled by a king, prince or nawab, and that since only occupying feudal rulers have always had the leisure and luxury to experiment with food, this version, the Moradabadi Biryani, is a local deviation. Honestly, who cares? As long as you like it, and maybe if they don’t use chicken anymore.
This is how I would describe a Kashmiri Biryani. A Biryani cooked in the traditional dum style with tender pieces of mutton, no goat, layered with basmati rice, freshly ground spices, caramelized onions, mint leaves and coriander. The mutton is marinated in sour curd and lemon juice which gives it a sourness that you can find in so many Kashmiri dishes, especially like in the iconic ‘Goshtaba’. Gently spiced with dry ginger powder, fennel powder, Kashmiri red chili, this biryani is distinguished by the use of an abundance of nuts and dried fruits and even fresh apples, all available in abundance in this fertile land. Now imagine all this meat, rice, spices and fruits cooked with a little milk. Heaven on earth.
Like the Bombay Biryani, the Delhi biryani has been generated, regenerated and degenerated several times. The Degi Biryani which is so popular in most corners of Delhi in its chicken form is not really what Delhi must have started with all those centuries ago. To give the city its due, Delhi had its own kitchen. Not Mughlai, not Punjabi, but Dehalvi Cuisine, which I will elaborate on in a future column. Dehalvi style food was created and perfected in Delhi’s narrow streets and mohallas, native homes and even the Royal Mughal kitchens of Delhi. A kitchen long buried in the rubble and rubble of Delhi’s turbulent past.
However, this Biryani is simple, mild and flavorful. Traditionally, the ratio of the meat used in the Delhi Biryani is one and a half times the amount of rice to the meat. The usual masalas including floral favors such as star anise enhance the flavor. Saffron is used, of course, bag permitting, or an unusual ingredient, Harsinger flowers, also called night jasmine or Pariyat, are white fragrant flowers with orange stems. These flowers were soaked in water and that water was then added to biryani for coloring and fragrance. It is a rich and simple taste of meat and rice.
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Culture and gastronomy leave a unique design on history. Our country has witnessed dozens of invaders; and each invader brought its own culture and new cuisine. In the north, the influence of the Turks, Arabs, Persians and Afghans from the 15th to the 19th century during the reign of the Mughals elevated cooking to an art form, its virtuosity, including the Biryani and the Pulao as one of his finest showpieces . A work of art embraced by not only the north, but over time, every part of India.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer from Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of this publication.
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