BIRYANI — the real deal, travesties, and other tales

Well, let’s start with the video that caused enough of a personal reaction for me to create a post:

116 likes, 6 comments - Desi Galli Fresh Indian Street Food (@desigalli) on Instagram: "What is biryani? An Indian entree where rice and a protein are cooked into one dish. Also traditi..."

Pretty ballsy to start with “What’s Biryani?” and then post something that absolutely no one would identify as Biryani :rofl:

I mean, that’s not even Pulao. That’s curry-rice, like I could mix up on a plate. Sigh.

But here’s Asma Khan in London mixing up the layers of a real biryani:

And here’s a Bombay Biryani being made in bulk in a big pot (handa) in India:

Anyway. Do you like Biryani? What kind(s)? Where do you like to eat it? Do you cook it? And so on.

Let the Biryani love flow.


I’ll start. When I say just Biryani, I mean Bombay Biryani. That’s a specific style — generous onions and tomatoes in the base, always potatoes, and the secret ingredient — dried apricots that disintegrate during the long, slow cook and are only discernible by the kernel that remains. I’ll eat other biryani, but this is the one I crave.

I think this style may be called Sindhi Biryani in other places.

Not a huge fan of Awadhi/Lucknowi or the derivative Calcutta/Kolkata Biryani because they taste more like what I grew up eating as Pulao — less spiced, more subtle (no tomatoes, subtle onions).

The first time I ate Hyderabadi Biryani was in Hyderabad, and I didn’t love it because it seemed like a mixed-up version of the Biryani I knew. That was the kid me — the adult me enjoys this style, and the many other southern styles of Biryani (that may be more identifiable as Biryani to some in North America, especially the Bay Area).

I almost never order Biryani in New York or elsewhere North America because what’s usually served some travesty resembling the video linked — curry mixed with rice, and if they’re trying to be really “authentic”, throw on a dough lid and let it brown so there’s some table drama when it’s lifted off (see: Adda in NYC). Nothing has actually been cooked as it should. The divey cab driver places are an exception — it’s not the Biryani I want, but at least it’s Biryani of some real sort.


Yes, I like biryani. I only ever eat it restaurants where the better versions seem to be Hyderabadi. I’ve no idea whether this is a cooking style unique to the city or simply a marketing ploy from our mainly Bangladeshi owned “Indian” restaurants.

I know the theory is that the lamb is cooked in the same pot as the rice. I suspect I may never have eaten an authentically prepared dish and what I have eaten and enjoyed is simply cooked lamb mixed through the rice.

Are there any give-aways that a restaurant dish is or is not traditionally prepared?

FWIW, one of the owners of my favourite South Asian restaurant is Iranian. In the past she’s suggested I cook a Persian biryani but I kept forgetting to see how it might differ from an Indian one.

Chances of a good Biryani in the UK are a lot better given the overall quality of indian / south asian food.

The Iranian lady is right of course, Biryani originated in Persia (as did all Mughlai food) but was a completely different dish there.

I’d venture that you can make a great biryani at home if you have access to a south asian store selling boxed biryani masala (of late there even are a couple of basmati brands selling a biryani “kit” that comes with a wet masala paste and basmati rice).

There are two techniques for cooking the meat and rice:
(1) Kacchi (raw) Biryani — raw (marinated) meat and soaked but uncooked rice are layered, then the pot is covered with a lid then sealed with dough, and everything cooks together very slowly under “dum” — the steam that’s generated inside.
(2) Pakey huey gosht ki / often shortened to Pakee (cooked) — the meat is cooked separately (korma), the rice is par-boiled, then they’re layered and the rest is the same, but it takes less time because everything is almost cooked, it’s just being finished together.

The raw version is trickier to get right, so most of what you’ll see is the par-cooked style.

You can tell if what you got served is curry-rice vs biryani if it’s wet — Biryani is never wet due to the finishing process, where the liquid from the meat curry is converted to steam or absorbed into the rice layer adjacent to the meat. That’s why you’ll sometimes see “saalan” or meat gravy served alongside some Hyderabadi or other typical Muslim versions, and raita with others, for some added moisture.

There are 3 layers really: the top rice which is just white (or tinted by saffron), the middle where the meat gravy melds with the rice, and the bottom, which is the meat (and potatoes). That’s why Asma Khan was mixing up the pot before serving — so each serving has all three components.


Ah. If wetness is the key then I might actually have eaten more traditional versions than I thought. Generally speaking, the ones I’ve eaten in the UK have been pretty much dry - just meat and rice - but with a sauce, or raita, served separately.

Thanks very much for all of this. I couldn’t get the first video to load but there’s enough here to digest from the second video and your comments. I guess I have never had a wet biryani either and have had several that were dried out, not just dry.

There was an earlier thread on HO, probably 4-5 years ago at least, which was very informative. I remember several contributions, maybe even one from me, of lists of various styles, including Sindhi, which I thought sounded very good. I picked up a package of Shan mix for that but have never gotten around to making it. I haven’t been to an Indian grocery store in several years, now, due to personal health issues and Covid.

Places here don’t usually identify their style but I’m pretty sure I’ve never had one with potatoes. I gather from the video the potatoes are left in pretty large chunks. I want to find an Indian restaurant with an open kitchen!, where I can watch all this going on :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

The style I’m most familiar with is from Kerala as I spent several months a few years back exploring all the places in our southwestern suburbs that offer that style - with raisins and cashews. I did not like it at first, slightly sweet and not spicy/hot, but got used to it.

I like biryani but do not order it often because the servings are typically so huge and I guess I would say a bit monotonous for a one-dish meal.

If I lived in India, I’m sure I would try these delivery services. I had a look a Swiggy and picked Mumbai (we were at a Mumbai street food place here last night) just to see what was available. It was interesting to see just how many places offer non-Asian food, including several well known western fast food outlets. Indeed, just looking at the first couple of pages, I found fewer outlets serving Indian food than I’d find on my local dleivery app here in the UK.

Welcome to the forum, by the way.

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I’m used to the Calcutta style biryani. I’m told it has roots in the Awadhi style as the Awadhi Nawabs with the remains of their royal entourage including cooks eventually found their way to Calcutta at the end of their glory days.
I’m not an expert by any means but I think the Calcutta biryani is characterised by having large chunks of potato (which must be perfectly soft and flavoured by the meat gravy) and hardboiled eggs alongside the meat or chicken.
I have lived in the UK for over 20 years now and can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have had a satisfactory biryani in a restaurant. The ones served up in Bangladeshi-run Indian restaurants are totally meh. The best ones I’ve had were at Gymkhana in London’s Mayfair district and at a place called Saanjha in Southampton (run by Punjabis from India). Sadly, Saanjha has gone downhill - I can’t put my finger on it but I think they changed the oil they use to an inferior quality and now I get terrible indigestion from their food.
The best biryani outside India is homemade. My friend Jasmine makes a killer version from scratch which I cannot replicate despite having the recipe. I can make a decent version using a boxed masala kit but it is virtually a whole day project for me. I think the Shan brand biryani masalas are the best. They have a Bombay biryani masala that is great.


At NYC"s Wall Street area there were a lot of food trucks parked to service lunch.

There was one Chicken Biryani food truck with a long line with ex-patriots from India.

I mean…the line was huge and the customers looked like they knew their biryani.

I tried it out and used to eat there once a week etc. They had boiled egg, sour plum, and this white yogurt sauce in it that was super good.

Welcome to the forum, medgirl. Thanks for your first contribution. Hopefully, we’ll see you posting on the UK sub-forum.


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The best Biryani I ever had was made by the wife of an Indian friend of mine, sadly now departed. She knew my heat intolerance and was able to tone it down to a level that was acceptable to me. Her samosas were wonderful too; they were crisp triangles, not ungainly tetrahedrons. One I believe is Gujarati while the other is Punjabi.

Another Indian friend claims that biryani should be eaten by hand, not using utensils; she says it tastes better that way. Too messy for me.

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It’s an acquired skill, like chopsticks. Neat if you know how.

Reminded me of an earlier article.

One I’ve yet to acquire, sandwiches and the like apart. And my chopstick use is an embarrassment - much ends up on the table, if it hasnt already gone down my shirt instead. Neat it is not. I quite like the Thai use of fork and spoon. But I think I’m happiest with what I know best - knife and fork - but I doubt I could ever get to proper grips with the complicated way most Americans seem to use them. All that picking up, putting down, changing hands - much too complicated a process.

Me too. And I find it amusing when I see people eating with the fork in the right hand, and the left thumb used to push the food onto the fork.

I do like biryani. I’m not conversant enough with regional styles to really know what I’ve had, although in the 4 or so restaurants I get it around here it’s pretty similar one to another. A work friend from Australia’s wife is of Indian decent; they had us over and her chicken biryani was also similar.

My preference is goat (mutton) biryani, mainly because other than cooking goat stews for myself, that’s the only times I get goat. The Haitian restaurants here are a bit of a hike (45+ min drive) and anyway pale in comparison from what I’m used to in South Florida.

How do they make the wonderful, fluffy rice? It seems to be very long grained, but what about the cooking technique keeps it all separate with no grains sticking to a neighbor? (I guess the same could be said of rice in Mediterranean and Persian style cooking.)


Around age 12 I spent a month helping an aunt and uncle refurb their “new” very old house. At some point his very old aunt from England came to visit, and during her first dinner there I sat next to her.

As per my usual (typical American), I cut a piece of meat with right-hand knife, left-hand fork holding it down, then switched the fork to my right hand. She rapped me across the knuckles (not hard) with the spine of her butter knife and just said, “No, like this”.

I’ve eaten that way ever since, and taught my kids the same.

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Learning anything new for me (including cooking) has been a combination of interest, practice, and intent.

I had an American roommate of Chinese origin who took us to dim sum for the first time and told the wait staff not to give us forks no matter how much we pleaded, because she was teaching us to use chopsticks that day. She was prepared for the meal to take as long as it took, but chopsticks only!

It was both frustrating and fun. I’m sure the way we ate was child-like and sloppy compared to her expertise, but she insisted that it didn’t matter as long as we could hold the chopsticks by the end of the meal and feed ourselves. It took all the embarrassment out of it for her to say that, and gave me the confidence I needed – I never looked back. Each attempt with chopsticks was a challenge to myself to do just a little better than last time, and her encouraging words were always in my mind.

Indians use spoon and fork when eating Indian food in a western setting as well, it’s much more effective for wet items and rice.


Indeed s/he is right, and I have expressed the same. The article I linked has a nice description too.

I think food tastes different when eaten as it’s intended, whether with fingers, chopsticks, or otherwise (I mean… pizza with a fork? Yeah, it tastes like something, but not the same… and apparently it’s newsworthy too).

Re the other part, what @Rasam mentioned elsewhere bears repeating – most (Western) cultures are vocally intolerant of their food being eaten other than as they eat it – imagine the reaction to Indians eating pasta at an Italian restaurant (never mind in Italy) with their fingers, or a Sunday roast. :rofl:

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If you look up any biryani recipe, the technique is the same – the rice is par-boiled in plenty of water, then rinsed, that gets any residual starch left (after the copious pre-washing).

The rice is usually basmati (aged, extra long grain) in North Indian biryanis, but may be specialty local varieties in South Indian biryanis.

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So funny you mentioned the biryani cart. A relative of a friend who was in town for a while last year kept telling us about this “amazing” biryani cart – neither my friend (also Indian, and food-loving) nor I had any clue what he was talking about (my friend works not far from there).