Success has many fathers. Chicken Biryani seems to have many mothers. So popular is the dish that food writers and historians across South Asia have laid claim to this delicious mix of rice, spices and meat. Some have gone to the extent of romanticising it with the charm and grace of Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s (the 5th Mughal Emperor of India, in the 1600s), beautiful queen who inspired not only the Taj Mahal but also the biryani.
“Nearly all the theories that have been offered to explain how biryani originated strike me as being bogus. One version is that the Mughals brought biryani to India which is completely untrue because the dish was known even before Babur got here. Another is that Timur brought biryani with him when he came to plunder the sub-continent. This is nonsense,” said veteran journalist and renowned food critic Vir Sanghvi in one of his weekly food columns.
According to Sanghvi, there is no record of biryani existing anywhere outside of India in Timur’s era. His views echo with the most authoritative book ever written on the dish called Biryani by a former Indian Administrative Services officer Prathiba Karan, who reveals that biryani is an Indian invention, derived from pulao which Muslim traders and invaders brought to the peninsula.
Her theory is that pulao is an army dish. When the soldiers set up a camp for the night, the cooks could not be expected to invent elaborate meals. So, they preferred a one-pot dish where they cooked rice with whatever meat or fowl was available. She rejects the word ‘birinj’ defined as ‘frying before cooking’ as the origin of the name because it hardly leads you to the biryani. More plausible is a theory which traces the name to the word ‘birinj’ as in the Persian word for rice.
She further explains in her book that the only possible distinction between and pulao and a biryani is, that the latter requires layering, with rice being the first layer and the top layer and the meat in the middle. In a pulao, there is no layering, and the ingredients are cooked together. Moreover, because biryanis are regarded as grander dishes, they tend to be scented with Kewda (pandanus plant extract), Rosewater, Saffron etc. whereas pulaos can be simpler dishes.
Pratibha also busts another myth that biryani is a north Indian dish. According to her, it is a south Indian dish. The people of the north are essentially wheat eaters. It is the south that prefers rice, and that is why South Indian biryanis frequently go beyond the north Indian obsession with basmati and use more exotic breeds of rice.
It isn’t just the Hyderabadi biryanis that are famous; it is also the richly spiced biryanis of Kerala, the Andhra biryani and the biryanis of Tamil Nadu. And Sanghvi has the last word in this discourse. He says: Biryani’s real significance is that it is a pan-Indian dish. Nearly everywhere in India, wherever there is a Muslim community, there is a biryani. But the average Indian is not too concerned with the ancestry of the dish. When he is a mood to treat himself or his family, he orders biriyani.
Sources  The History of Biryani – https://www.desiblitz.com/content/the-history-of-biryani  Everything you want to know about biryani Vir Sanghvi – http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/everything-you-want-to-know-about-biryani/story-YTHNsrnZm2cQyviBzBLKkJ.html  Karan, Pratibha. Biriyani. Delhi: Random House India, 2009. Print.
 The History of Biryani – https://www.desiblitz.com/content/the-history-of-biryani
 Everything you want to know about biryani
Vir Sanghvi – http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/everything-you-want-to-know-about-biryani/story-YTHNsrnZm2cQyviBzBLKkJ.html
 Karan, Pratibha. Biriyani. Delhi: Random House India, 2009. Print.