Hyderabadi biryani may be the ‘piece de resistance’, but there are plethora of biryanis too in the southern states of India, which boast of unique and scintillating flavours.
The mere mention of the word biryani, conjures images of the waft of the delectable Hyderabadi gosht biryani filling the room. With succulent pieces of lamb and fragrant basmati rice, this biryani is without a doubt, one of the most popular biryanis among gourmets. Yet, there are several other, perhaps lesser known biryanis in Southern India, which equally tantalise the taste buds of gourmands.
Cooking techniques, spices used and quality of rice, are what make all the difference to the flavours and textures of a biryani, opine chefs unanimously. Chef Saji Alex, Chef De Cuisine, Cassava Restaurant, Kochi Marriott Hotel, reiterates. “The preparation method and the usage of certain ingredients, is the main difference between the various biryanis in Southern India. For example, for Moplah (Thalassery Biriyani) we use Khaima Rice and for Hyderabadi Biriyani, Basmati Rice is generally preferred. Nutmeg, Mace, Fennel, Cardamom, Cinnamon, are some of the important spices that contribute to the flavours in biryanis.”
Thus, while, Thalassery or Moplah biryani from Kerala’s Muslim community is aromatic, the Ambur Biryani from Tamil Nadu is spicy and the Bhatkal Biryani from Karanataka, is sweet and spicy, as opposed to the light and fragrant Konju Biryani, made by Syrian Christians.
King of Biryanis
No biryani lover can go through life without having savoured this Hyderabadi delicacy. Hyderabadi biryani, that soars popularity charts with biryani aficionados, is prepared with kacha gosht or uncooked meat and is layered at the bottom of a heavy bottomed pan with long grained, flavourful basmati rice in various stages of doneness.
A veritable feast awaits one, when this biryani is served on special occasions in households or at restaurants. Typically made with mutton, this biryani is always accompanied by a bitter, tangy and spicy mirchi ka salan, to further perk up the taste buds.
Another variety of the Hyderabadi biryani is called Doodh Biryani, where the rice is cooked with milk and cream along with the meat. Naturally then, this one is richer and heavier than the original version and is comparatively uncommon.
Tangy Treats from Tamil Nadu
Yoghurt and mint are what impart a unique flavour to the Ambur or the Arcot Biryani from Tamil Nadu. The chicken is marinated in these two ingredients, thus lending this biryani a distinctive spicy and tangy taste.
The slow cooking process further enhances its flavours, as it is laboriously cooked over wood fire, infusing the spices into the rice and chicken. The accompaniment for this biryani is usually Khattay baigan or a sour brinjal dish, that sets it apart. Generally made with mutton or chicken, this biryani is a must-have at weddings or feasts.
Tamil Nadu is also home to the flavoursome Chettinad Chicken Biryani. This is made with regular raw rice (ponni rice) or with zeera samba rice. The other ingredients used in this biryani are freshly ground spices, coconut milk and country chicken, which imparts a rustic, yet robust flavour.Biryani lovers generally don’t even acknowledge a vegetarian biryani, yet, the carnivores too, relish the unique Thalai Vaazhai biryani from the Nadar cuisine of Coastal Tamil Nadu. Made with the banana fruit, flower and stem, along with rice, this biryani, is one of a kind.
From God’s Own Country
One can’t visit Kerala and not savour the aromatic Thalassery or Moplah Biryani from North Kerala. Resplendent with ghee, this dish has a strong Arab influence and is cooked using a dum technique. The cooking vessel is sealed, with a strip of dough, and heat is applied from both the top as well as below. This results in the soft meat or erachi pieces and separate fluffy rice grains.
It is the short-grained jeerakashala (khaima) rice that lends this biryani a unique flavour. Equally pivotal to this biryani is the use of the eight spices as part of a khada garam masala (use of whole spices), of which star anise and Thalassery pepper, are prominent and render the characteristic fragrance and spicy notes.
Moplah Chef, Begum Abida Rasheed, who is considered the ambassador of this cuisine, says, “What makes this biryani unique is its flavours from natural ingredients that are not overpowered by the spices and the fact that, it is not heavy. Mutton biryani maybe the most popular one, but chicken or seer fish maybe used too, as per preference. The uruli (brass cooking pot) and cheena chetty (frying pan) are critical to the flavours of this biryani, so I always carry these along.”
With fish and seafood being abundant in this region, fish biryani or prawns (chemeen) biryani with spices and herbs, is a popular delicacy too. The tantalising flavours of the Malabar Fish Biryani made with short-grained khaima, are kept intact by frying the fish before layering it gently within the rice and spices.
Flavours of Karnataka
Fine basmati rice cooked in a vessel and then addition of a spice mix that is abundant with caramelised onions and chicken added, is what results in a delicious Bhatkal Biryani from coastal Karnataka. The pungency of the spices, juxtaposed with the sweetness from copious amount of slow-cooked onions, is what makes this biryani different.
The onions laced with garlic, chillies and spices, with scattered curry leaves, lends a unique flavour to Bhatkal Biryani. Onions are obviously much eaten in this region because apart from the customary salad and pickle, this biryani is served with a mashed onion masala.
With separate cooking techniques and ingredients, each of these southern biryanis are inimitable and appease the taste buds of any food lover.
Written by Mini Ribeiro