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Biryani Stories: Is Biryani the national dish of Pakistan?

Biryani, one of the staples of Pakistani cuisine. Image by Faizan Ashraf. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is the first part of our series: “Biryani Stories” – a look at the common culinary culture in South Asian Countries.

The king of South Asian cuisine and a loved-by-all dish is Biryani. The layered preparation, usually with fragrant basmati or kalizira rice, is sprinkled with saffron and has chunks of sumptuous meat. Its trademark smell lets everyone know that it’s a special occasion. It is a very popular dish in Pakistan and the question often arises, “Is this the national dish of Pakistan”?

Once a dish for royalty, today biryani reflects the flavor and traditions of each locality and is a common dish across many places in Pakistan. However, there is a controversy as to whether Biryani is the national dish of Pakistan. It seems that the Government of Pakistan has not declared any food to be the national dish because there isn't just one dish that is popular in every region and such a lavish meal is often out of reach for some Pakistanis. However, Biryani is definitely one of the strong contenders for the title.

Biriyani has its origins among the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent and is popular beyond the region.

The word “biryani” comes from the Persian word “birian” which means “fried before cooking.” This South Asian mixed rice dish has its origins among the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. It’s part of the Mughlai cuisine that India is famous for which was developed from the 15th century to about the 19th century during the reign of the Mughal empire. The Mughals raised cooking to an art form, introducing several recipes to India like biryani, pilaf, and kebabs.

Biryani was first introduced by the Mughals in Northern India. It was known as pakka Biryani because most of the ingredients are pre-cooked and then assembled in a pot (deg) and then set on slow fire (dum) for final cooking. The Nizam of Hyderabad (a monarch) adapted the preparation of Biryani to Katcha (raw) style in which most of the ingredients are raw and mixed in the deg to the right proportion. The deg is sealed and placed on slow fire until it is cooked to perfection.

Punjabi Biryani. Image from WIkimedia Commons by Miansari66. Public Domain.

Some of the regional flavors of Biryanis in Pakistan include Sindhi Biryani, Punjabi Biryani, Bohri biryani, Afghani Biryani, or the traditional Mughlai Biryani or Hyderabadi style Biryani.

According to food critic Bisma Tirmizi, Sindhi Biryani is a Mughlai twist on the pulao, with a more fierce and exotic taste.

The masala-seeped potatoes, the tangy alloo bukhara (dried plums/prunes), mint and khatta dahi (sour yogurt) render the Sindhi Biryani a different taste, it’s spicier than most regional biryanis and the proportion of the masala to the rice is a little more than of most biryanis on the sub-continental menu.

There is another debate which is common in India and Pakistan regarding whether there should be Aloo (potato) in the Biryani or not. Some like the taste with or without potato. Earlier this year Manal Aijaz, a Pakistani blogger, posted a poll on social media. For the next 5 days, the Pakistani Twitter space was seen taking this poll seriously. Here is the result:

And new ideas were floated:

If you would like to have a taste some of the Pakistani Biryanis check out Faatimah's recipe for an easy and traditional Pakistani Chicken Biryani. You can also look at Ainy's recipe for Punjabi Biryani, Pakistani Lamb Biryani among others.

For now, it seems the decision as to whether or not Biryani is the national dish of Pakistan is still undecided.

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