Biryani derives its name from the Persian word ‘birian’ which means ‘fried before cooking’. A biryani is essentially made up of rice and spices fried in butter or ghee and the meat or vegetables are marinated and cooked separately. The meat after being fried is cooked in a seasoned broth or stock and then arranged in layers with the rice and further simmered in a covered pot till it is ready. The method of covering the pot, sealing it and cooking the rice in its own steam is known in India as ‘dum cooking’.
Nawab Asaf ud Daula, ruler of the kingdom of Awadh (modern day Lucknow) was the first person to stumble on the method of dum cooking and to popularise it. In 1784, when a famine ravaged his principality, the Nawab decided to feed his people. Not one to indulge in charity that would make his subjects lazy, the Nawab struck a brilliant plan. He embarked on an ambitious construction project of a monument known as ‘Bara Imambara’ or ‘Big Prayer House’. He employed twenty two thousand of his countrymen as labourers. The men worked during the day constructing the edifice, while the women and children worked nights destroying it. Payments to the workers were made partly in cash and partly in form of meals.
One day on an inspection tour, the Nawab investigated a mouth-watering fragrance emanating out of one of the pots that contained the staff meals. The sensual taste of the biryani immediately captured the attention of the Nawab who set off promoting it.
Was the Nawab the founder of the biryani movement?