October 13, 2015

Journeys in the Land of Biryani

Guest post - Journeys in the land of Biryani - by Tim @urbanduniya

Happy Hump Day! On this fine Wednesday my amazing friend Tim from Urban Duniya takes our taste buds on an educational journey in the land of this delightful spiced rice dish.  Grab a cuppa hot, sweet chai and be prepared for a ‘virtual‘ biryani food coma from gorging on this delicious post.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: Guest post - Dum Biryani (a steaming method using wheat dough to 'seal' the pot) - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.comI’ve traveled to and through many countries, but it will be no surprise to my friends when I say that my journeys in the Indian subcontinent have affected me the most. After all, it was the subcontinent that have given me love, a renewed spiritual awareness, and my new home and life. I first tasted the subcontinent before I visited there, in the form of fish biryani at a Pakistani canteen in the Omani coastal town of Sur. My mouth was filled with the aromatic rice; spicy, bold, but daring me to take another spoonful. That was January 2006, and I had little idea then how symbolic that first taste of biryani would be, as the subcontinent kept challenging me, but then drawing me back over the years.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: Sur, Oman - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

Biryani is a difficult dish in many ways. To begin with, it’s difficult to make; a proper biryani should have layers of rice and meat which are cooked separately, then steamed together to allow the complex flavours to infiltrate the whole pot. It’s often served with crispy onions on top, and sides of chopped salad, smooth raita (whipped yogurt), pickle (usually marinated lime, chilli or mango), sometimes a boiled egg, sometimes korma gravy, and sometimes a pappad (popularly referred to as a ‘pappadum’ in the West). Biryani is therefore more of a banquet and a ritual, rather than a simple dinner thrown together, and it has its roots in the Mughal dynasty, the extravagant Muslim royal family of northern India (the family who built the Taj Mahal).

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: Chowpatty beach, Mumbai - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

Secondly, the actual ownership of biryani is difficult to pinpoint, as history is so often disputed. While it was probably developed in Mughal India sometime between the 16th and 19th centuries, it may have existed much earlier than that. Whenever it was invented, it has come to be associated with the Indian Muslim tradition. Pakistan (where I now live part-time) was created in 1947 as a homeland for Muslims in the Indian subcontinent, so it’s logical that biryani would be the national dish of Muslim Pakistanis. However this draws the ire of Indians, who point out that the cities where biryani was made famous; Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad; are all in modern-day India.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: The Biryani Map (Image Google Maps) - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

Biryani is further complicated by the fact there is no specific recipe for it – the dish changes depending on who you ask, and where you go. And of course, this makes for some interesting experiences on travels through the region. After my Pakistani fish biryani experience in Oman, I touched down in Pakistan’s heaving port city of Karachi where I would feast on more fish, seafood and prawn biryani, all caught fresh out of the adjacent Arabian Sea.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: Karachi's starkly dramatic beachfront - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

The spices were intense and aromatic; I still remember walking along the tough streets of Karachi where roadside stall owners would lift the lids on their huge pots of food, allowing the scent to waft out across the pavement, a kind of sensual marketing campaign. Karachi is considered the home of Pakistani biryani; there it is the spiciest, and the most authentic. The rice is fluffy and the meat varied – everything from chicken through to seafood – and the spices come with a scorching accent of chilli.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: The streets of Hyderabad Sur, Oman - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

My next encounter would be in Melbourne, Australia in 2008 when a colleague from Mumbai, India brought her mother’s chicken biryani to work. This was heavier, the rice more glutinous, and the chicken oilier than what I had eaten in Pakistan. The dish was very aromatic, but the spices were somehow earthier, grungier, somehow heavier but not ‘hotter’. Less chilli, more garam masala, turmeric and cumin, perhaps? In 2012 when I went to Mumbai, I realised that this type is considered ‘the real deal’ by people living in Mumbai, many of whom come from across India to work to make their dreams a reality in India’s largest metropolis.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: Biryani served up outside the Jama Masjid (Friday mosque) in Delhi - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

On the streets of old Delhi, India in 2010 I discovered another style, a kind of hybrid of Karachi’s fluffy rice and Mumbai’s heavily accented spices, preferably served up with mutton, the kind of heavy, bold meat to accompany Delhi’s bold reputation as India’s capital; a place which can make or break you, a place where the Muslim Mughal tradition lives on. The heavy Mumbai-like spices, a nod to the India of which Delhi is capital city; and the fluffy Karachi-style rice with mutton, a Muslim favourite, reminding me that I was firmly in northern India and only a few hundred kilometers from the  Pakistani border.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: Drive-thru service biryani Chowpatty beach, Mumbai - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

Hyderabad biryani, on the other hand, is a progression in the other direction. I visited Hyderabad, India in late 2012 and discovered a modest city with a glorious past. Like the heavy, oily, Mumbai biryani that I tasted, the Hyderabad biryani is thick with steam and spice, and the spices this time are hotter. Beneath the fiery chilli there were layers of dusty turmeric, tantalising cumin and dark garam masala. The biryani I ate in Hyderabad, southern India, was the furthest location from Oman and Karachi where I first fell in love with the dish, and in taste terms, it was also the most different. And like everything in southern India, Hyderabad biryani was subtly, yet confidently, different.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: Restaurant-style biryani - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

It was then that I realised that my journey through Pakistan and India had been mirrored by my encounters with this dish; from the first taste of fish by the sea at an expat’s canteen in Oman, to the peppery rice I was served in the harsh streets of Karachi, the melange of spices in Mumbai’s biryani symbolic of the millions of Mumbaikers who hail from elsewhere, Delhi’s Indian Muslim concoction, and Hyderabad’s beautifully complex dish which is claimed by many to be original.

Journeys in the Land of Biryani: My biryani made at home - @urbanduniya - Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.com

There are so many more – vegetable biryani made in Hindu communities; the over-spicy biryani prepared in the isle of spices, Sri Lanka; camel meat biryani in the deserts of Pakistan. Biryani is not just a dish, it is a tradition and a matter of cultural expression for Indians, Pakistanis, expats, locals, workers, royals, and travellers. One does not simply taste biryani, one travels biryani, and it’s a journey I’m so thankful to be travelling on.

Tim would love to stay in touch… So please friends, be sure to pop over to his website Urban Duniay ~ Facebook ~ Instagram or Twitter and say hi.

Dear reader, I’d love to know what food you’ve eaten in a foreign country that you have tried making at home, or order when ever you see it on a restaurant menu?

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shenANNAgans is Anna Johnston, a 30 - something Aussie gal with an unwavering passion for the Hospitality industry. I love the quirky and unusual, designing events, travelling far and wide and eating food from all around the world. I am coffee blooded, a craft beer enthusiast, wine drinking yogi who enjoys writing about her adventures.

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5 Excellent (Last Minute) Edible Christmas Gifts - December 22, 2015 Reply

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Dee - November 30, 2015 Reply

I love biryani, Sri Lankan style in our house!

    Anna - December 1, 2015 Reply

    It really is a delicious feed, although I have only ever eaten it in restaurants. Need to get on making it.
    Thanks for stopping by Dee. 🙂

Hannah - November 5, 2015 Reply

While in Thailand my friend and I did an all day traditional cooking course.
We learnt how to make Pad Thai, Lemon Chicken, Green Curry(from scratch, including the paste), Massaman Curry(also from scratch) and Banana Fritters.
When we returned home we organised a dinner party for both of our families and we cooked each of the dishes we had learnt.
It was a large success, with the exception of some old coconut cream that almost made it’s way into the Massaman, I even tried the Banana Fritters!
For the record banana’s are still Yuck when fried and covered in chocolate sauce!

I try to do a cooking class whenever I’m traveling. A recipe is an excellent memento that you can appreciate time and time again.

    Anna - November 5, 2015 Reply

    I agree. 🙂 Makes sense that Biryani is so delicious, its a rather complex dish to prepare.

    Friend…. that is AWESOME, such a good way to gift yourself with a souvenir from your travel adventures, and it just keeps giving too. You are very clever! So when can I come for dinner at yours? I want Pad Thai & Lemon Chicken & Green Curry & Massaman Curry. But not the fritters, not really keen on banana fritters even tho I love banana, but not when it is fried.

Liz (Good Things) - October 25, 2015 Reply

Wow, so exotic! I LOVE your photos, Tim… and the recipe, I’ve learned something delicious… now to read it all again! Xx

    Anna - October 25, 2015 Reply

    This post was fascinating to me too, so detailed and interesting. I really had no idea biryani was such a complex dish. Made me excited to try the real deal in India & or Pakistan. Yarm! 🙂

Susan - October 23, 2015 Reply

I remember making Biryani back in the 1980’s sometime, we were very much a meat & 3 veg family back then so creating biryani was very adventurous for me. I was amazed at how many spices & flavours made up this dish, it was amazingly complex, I loved it but until reading Tim’s post, I had no idea of it’s origins & variations. Really enjoyed this one Anna & Tim, thanks for sharing.

    Anna - October 23, 2015 Reply

    Oh yes, I bet it was a total shock to the system cooking and eating something like biryani. I dont remember ever eating food as tasty and delicious as this until I was working in kitchens all over the world with Indian & or Pakistani cooks. A taste nothing like what we ate growing up in country Australia.

    Such an interesting post huh? Tim really took us on an adventure with his words. Glad you enjoyed! 🙂

Amanda (@lambsearshoney) - October 19, 2015 Reply

These are great images and I now feel like I have a much more rounded understanding of this complex and delicious dish – one, I will admit, I always thought was fairly simple.

    Anna - October 19, 2015 Reply

    I absolutely agree re thinking it was a relatively simple dish to prepare. I very much look forward to trying the real deal in India & or Pakistan. 🙂

The Hungry Mum - October 18, 2015 Reply

What an evocative post! Feel like I have been taken on a cultural, exotic journey. And what a meal – can almost smell it through my laptop screen.

    Anna - October 19, 2015 Reply

    I hear that ‘THM’ 🙂 Such an interesting post, was totally fun to journey along with Tim and experience a culture I really do not know a lot about. Glad you enjoyed. 🙂

Liz - October 18, 2015 Reply

Such a nice lesson on this classic dish along with a virtual trip to India! I’ve only heard of biryani, yet never had the chance to sample any of the many versions. The hubby thinks Italian food is exotic, so I probably will be eating a restaurant version before making it at home 🙂

    Anna - October 19, 2015 Reply

    Isnt it wonderful? I loved this post, I loved that we got to really experience another culture and food with Tim. Seems a pretty amazing dish huh?

    My dad was exactly the same about what he considered exotic food, growing up, Spaghetti bowl was very foreign food for him to eat. Now a house hold special in Australia.

    Please do let me know what you think of the restaurant version when you try it.

Norma Chang - October 17, 2015 Reply

My knowledge of Indian cuisine and culture is very limited, after reading this post and seeing all those beautiful photos I can now say I have expanded my knowledge of India and learn about Biryani, thanks Anna and Tim.

    Anna - October 19, 2015 Reply

    Right there with you Norma, it is a cuisine and culture I know very little about. After Tim’s post, I now have a real want to visit and experience the culture. Glad you enjoyed. 🙂

Ala - October 17, 2015 Reply

I feel like I just had the best history lesson ever in about 5 minutes–this is SO lovely to read about! It just makes me want to try making the dish even more <3 love love loveeee

    Anna - October 19, 2015 Reply

    That’s freakin awesome Ala, so pleased you enjoyed the post. I agree totally with what you are saying, totally the best way to find I want to know more, more, more. Tim is a wonderful writer, so chuffed he guest posted here for us. Pretty sure a good chunk of people were preparing biryani in their kitchens last week. LOL! 🙂

Sue Slaght - October 16, 2015 Reply

Thank you for the culinary journey Anna. The dish sounds too complicated for me I’m afraid. For us we tried making Turkish coffee at home with very little luck. A fellow blogger sent us coffee from Turkey along with instructions and presto!

    Anna - October 19, 2015 Reply

    Thank you so much for stopping by and enjoying the journey with us. 🙂
    Haha… I agree re the complexity of the dish, I had no idea. I have booked a lesson with Tim down the track tho, so perhaps I will think differently after that. 🙂

    Oooooh…. Turkish coffee is amazing, especially when you get the real deal. Glad you nailed it, nothing worse than bad coffee.

John/Kitchen Riffs - October 15, 2015 Reply

Love the pictures! And who doesn’t like biryani? Some day I need to travel to India and have it at the source. Really fun guest post — thanks so much.

    Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

    The pictures really are very cool huh? Totally inspired me to make India a thing. Tim’s post is amazing, so fun to adventure with him, especially the street cooking, looks fascinating.
    Glad you enjoyed. 🙂

hassan - October 14, 2015 Reply

Hayyyyy Anna
It s important for us to make it. Great explanation.

    Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

    Howdy Hassan! Glad you enjoyed the post, and yes, the description and explanation Tim gave us was amazing. 🙂

Mabel Kwong - October 14, 2015 Reply

Such a delicious post on biryani. Growing up in Malaysia and Singapore, the dish was everywhere around me – in restaurants, hawker centres, food courts and even stalls beside the road. I love that dish, but seldom ate it because it was usually too spicy for my tastebuds. From the sounds of it, the biryani in Malaysia and Singapore resembles the rich oily variety you get in Mumbai, and the dish here tends to have yellow long grain rice. They tend to come in big, generous portions, though. And they are very filling dishes 😀

Lovely write up, Tim. Biryani is certainly one diverse dish.

    Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

    I didnt see Biryani when I was in Singapore, but definitely in Malaysia, especially Penang. Hmmm… yes, I think you are right about the way the prepare it in Malaysia and Singapore being similar to that served in India, might have to add to my ‘eat list’ for next time I’m in Asia.

    Glad you enjoyed little one. Hugs and love. xox

Mandy - October 14, 2015 Reply

When we lived in Mauritius (a very small island), from one street to the next, the Biryani was different. All well great though.
Have a super day.
🙂 Mandy xo

    Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

    Isn’t that interesting?! It is much the same in restaurants here in Canberra. I’d like to eat biryani in India and or Pakistan tho, to see just how different it is. Happy weekend to you. xo

Tandy | Lavender and Lime - October 14, 2015 Reply

What an interesting history about this dish. We eat biryani here as many of the Cape Malays have it as a traditional dish 🙂

    Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

    Awesome! That is very cool. It seems to be a universal dish. 🙂

Rachel (Rachel's Kitchen NZ) - October 14, 2015 Reply

Oh, such an interesting post about one of my favourite Indian dishes.

    Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

    Glad you enjoyed Rachel! 🙂 I found the post pretty fascinating too. Tim sure did take us on a whirlwind adventure.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella - October 14, 2015 Reply

My goodness now I have to have some biryani tonight I think! You’ve got me craving it so much! 😮

    Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

    Haha! Yep, pretty sure this post inspired many of us to find some biryani. LOL! Happy weekend lovely Lorraine.

Kris - October 14, 2015 Reply

Wow. Reading this was truly like being taken to a place in the world that I never thought I would visit. But now want to. Pin pointing the specific spies and the comparisons of the same dish through the regions was just fantastic. Biryani I have seen on many menus but have skipped over as I have often found dishes with garam masala to be rather dominate and can over take the other flavors. But after reading this, I think I may have just misunderstood it, or been to terrible restaurants. Haaha

Another wonderful share Anna, thank you.

    Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

    I absolutely agree, although I realised it was a place I wanted to visit not so long after meeting Tim. He really is a wonderful story teller. 🙂

    Look at you little bro, speaking the chef re garam masala #proud it is a dominating spice/flavour, but I like that, it makes the dish distinct. Pretty sure I can get a recipe from Tim and we can have a cook up + movie night…. YES!!!

    Really glad you enjoyed the post Nizz. As always, thanks for stopping by. xox

Hotly Spiced - October 14, 2015 Reply

What an interesting post; I’ve loved seeing the images of places I’ve never been. I’ve had biryani before and mostly in Indian restaurants where it’s quite true, it has varied from place to place. Whatever the range of recipes for this dish, I can say, I’m a fan xx

    Anna - October 14, 2015 Reply

    I totally agree Charlie, I loved being able to visit a place I haven’t been to, too. 🙂
    Like you biryani is a dish I have eaten a bunch of times in Indian restaurants here in Australia, I wonder just how different it tastes when prepared in India or Pakistan?

    Tim UrbanDuniya - October 14, 2015 Reply

    Glad you enjoyed it – thanks for reading 🙂

cityhippyfarmgirl - October 14, 2015 Reply

So good, I can almost taste it through the screen!
Great pics too, my time in India was a long time ago, but seeing those pictures makes it feel like last week.
Now…biryani, I think it’s time we revisited.

    Anna - October 14, 2015 Reply

    I haven’t been to India yet, but these pictures really inspire a visit. Fingers crossed I can convince Tim to be my tour guide.
    Enjoy your biryani eating adventures, me thinks many will be dining on this spiced rice dish in the near future. 🙂

    Tim UrbanDuniya - October 14, 2015 Reply

    I love biryani too, and glad I could bring back some memories 🙂 And Anna, of course I’ll be your tour guide!!! 😀

      Anna - October 15, 2015 Reply

      You are the best Tim! Adding that to the travel bucket list. Fun times ahead. 🙂

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef - October 14, 2015 Reply

What a journey through deliciousness! I’m so hungry for a spicy biryani right now. There’s a new Indian restaurant close enough to walk to and I’ve never been. I know what I want tonight!

    Anna - October 14, 2015 Reply

    Yep, it is a cracker post, so interesting and tasty. I’ve been craving Biryani since Tim sent me the post last week. LOL!
    Yay to having access to a new Indian restaurant and being able to satisfy those cravings. 🙂

    Tim UrbanDuniya - October 14, 2015 Reply

    Awww thanks for reading!! I’ve got a bit of a quick ‘cheat’ recipe if you’re interested, although nothing quite replaces the whole proper process of cooking it!

Denise Browning@From Brazil To You - October 14, 2015 Reply

Great explanation about biryani, a very flavorful rice dish that I love a lot. Thanks also for sharing a bit of your life in India, Tim.
Sending hugs to you, Anna!

    Anna - October 14, 2015 Reply

    Yes, such an interesting post huh? It’s really cool to learn the story behind foods we’ve eaten too.
    Biiiiig hugs back at you too lovely lady. xoxo

    Tim UrbanDuniya - October 14, 2015 Reply

    My pleasure – thanks for reading!! 🙂

UrbanDuniya – Journeys in the land of Biryani - October 14, 2015 Reply

[…] Come with Anna and I on a journey in the land of biryani, with my guest post on shenANNAgans – just click here. […]

Agness - October 14, 2015 Reply

I would love to try this rice and veggies over there. I’m bet it was really tasty! Mniam mnia! I’m very hungry now!

    Anna - October 14, 2015 Reply

    It is sooooooo delicious Agness, and I have only tried the Aussie version. 🙂
    When I visit Tim in Melbs, I am requesting this dish be cooked. YARM!!!

    Tim UrbanDuniya - October 14, 2015 Reply

    I’ll need to find a vegan version for you Agness! Vegetable biryani is vegetarian, but the marinade is yogurt-based. I’m sure I could think of something to replace it!

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