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Prima facie, the evidence is rather staggering as Swiggy data confirms that chicken biryani is their box office blockbuster for 6 years in succession, gulab jamun and pav bhaji tearfully distant successors. But then, the world is indeed a stage where we must play our part, and this union of rice and substance (meat or otherwise) can often be deliriously non grata.
Much literature is already crafted on this melodious dish, inspired arguably by Islamic invasions over multiple decades, Babur a prime perpetrator. Most interestingly, quite like the multifaceted fabric of India, myriad regions have their stylish interpretations, a conforming twosome rarely an occurrence. Which makes it a prime advocate for diversity and unification, an unlikely twain which works beautifully for our complex tabular topography.
In Calcutta, my hometown, the influence is largely Awadhi with a minor dash of Irish subversion, the boiled potato. Hyderabad stands stoically with its cultured stance, the old-timer ‘Paradise’ now a considerable corporation. While ‘Delhi 6’ insists on its unassailable pedigree and the other Southern states flaunt their indigenous evolution – whether the Moplah version of Kerala or the Military hotels of Tamil Nadu, amongst significant others.
Maharashtra has a predictably torrential take, with the gravies often overpowering the rice, and in Odisha as well, I have been greeted with defensible originality. In my corporate travelling days, now departed, the highlight of late-night five-star arrivals was the room service biryani, often a trainee chef’s earnest expression, but invariably designed to bring joy. For weddings across the territory, it remains a default favourite, for the inimitable ability to combine proteins, carbs and ecstasy, albeit not of the penal variety.
Most remarkably, it has evolved wonderfully as a vegetarian curation, best resonated by the jackfruit(kathal) versions flaunted by gourmet creators. This proves the resilience of an inarguably imported delicacy with an uncanny ability to integrate with the mainframe of India’s cuisine, evolving sincerely to cater to a significant non-veg cohort, affluent and demanding. These versions may not be my personal preference, but most definitely loved by many friends who seek salivating craftsmanship.
If one were to be imaginatively metaphorical, a story of seamless togetherness emerges quite effortlessly. Biryani is the dietary Rahul Dravid of much of the Gangetic plains, with rice being a constant foundation and addendums being accommodated as per citizenry preference- whether meats or vegetables, or even, fruits. Its spiciness is also lovingly localised, tailgating the possessive palates with no proven intent to disrupt.
Most valuably, it sounds and feels like the fabric of India, rooted in non-negotiable integrity while constantly embellished by chosen indulgences, with room for all and denial to none. No other eatable qualifies as such and this includes the venerable samosa, which can be hygienically insincere in execution and sans suitable gravitas in satisfaction. Dals across the states do offer diversity and taste but are rooted in middle-class routine-ness, more of a crow than a peacock.
On the 75th year of independence, it is worthwhile to discourse on the possibility of a national dish, which demonstrates our relentlessly diverse sustainability. The immigrant antecedents of the biryani when partnered with its resolute adaptability, is possibly sufficient provenance for eligibility. Most valuably, the elastic range of pricing, which effortlessly straddles a daily roadside budget eatery, and the noble creativity of the Dumpukht restaurant, conjured by ITC.
As a lover and fan for decades, I must declare my affections for the Awadhi strain, especially the erudite Kolkata interpretation. Like innumerable peers, it admirably bears the eclectic taste of inspiration, which is truly the story of our wonderfully successful nation.
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