This is the third article in our series “Stories of Biryani”, which takes a look at the culinary culture in the countries of South Asia. This delivery, we explore the culture of Biryani in Dhaka.
In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, the anarchic traffic congestion on the main roads of the city gives the opportunity to observe street food stores. You will be attracted to the aroma of its spiced biryani, very popular and easy to find!
The inclusion of Biryani as a Bengali dish dates back two centuries. Bangladesh, a country in the fertile region of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, has grown rice in the last 5000 years. The rice produced, combined with the fish from the numerous rivers that cross the country, caused its inhabitants to acquire a nickname: the “Bengali rich in fish and rice.”
Over time, and while the region passed through the hands of various invaders – including a period of Mongol empire in the Indian subcontinent – many foods were added to the Bengali culinary culture. Mongolian food, known as Mongolian cuisine, is part of this rich heritage and its outstanding dish is Dhaka biryani.
How did Biryani get to Dhaka?
In 1610, after the Mongol rulers declared Dhaka the provincial capital, the Mongol subedars (equivalent to the British captains) and other high officials arrived in Dhaka to take over the administration. The majority came from Lucknow in present-day India, with personal chefs. Although many subedars were later transferred from Dhaka, some cooks stayed, which kept the culture of Biryani in Dhaka alive with shops that allowed the Mongolian diet to flourish. Gradually, it merged with the local cuisine of Dhaka, which created a unique flavor that won the hearts of ordinary people and gradually became a regular part of their diet.
Biryani brands from Dhaka
If you are asked to name some typical foods of the city of Dhaka, the Biryani Kachchi (raw) would be at the top of the list. In any social activity, even a small meeting, when food is served, Biryani will be on the menu. In Dhaka, the preferred brand of Biryani is Hajir Biryani, created in 1939. Its characteristic is that it is cooked with mustard oil (instead of the traditional ghee or butter oil) and the lamb is used as meat.
Jhunur Biryani is another famous brand of Biryani in Dhaka, but it is cooked with chicken meat. Shah Saheb biriyani, Nanna Biryani and Fakhruddin kachchi are equally popular food brands.
When youtubero and Canadian food blogger Trevor James visited Bangladesh recently, and tested the Haji Biriyani and Nanna Biryani brands, which he praised tremendously.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN5rJ_lKZJw (/ embed)
Traditional Biryani recipes use lamb, beef or chicken, but in the country of “Bengali rich in fish and rice,” Biryani is also cooked with shrimp and even catfish. There is also vegetarian biryani, and the custom of Hajir Biryani is to sell it in containers made of jackfruit leaves.
Biryani variations in Dhaka
Basically biryani is cooked in one of two ways. In Pakki Biriyani, meat and rice are cooked separately, then layered for roasting. To make Kachi Biryani, marinate the lamb with yogurt and spices all night, then put it in the bottom of a large pot. Potatoes and rice are on top of the meat and the lid of the pot is sealed with dough so that it is airtight. Meat, potatoes and rice are cooked together over low heat with the dum-pukht style, which helps the dish retain its natural aromas.
In the Guruchandali blog, Sukanta Ghosh describes a special function of cooking Biryani Kacchi:
বিরিয়ানী তৈরীতে নাকি তেঁতুল কাঠের আগুন লাগে- আগুনের আবার নাকি পরত থাকে। আধুনিক যন্ত্রে তাপ মেপে নয় – বিরিয়ানী তৈরী হয় আগুনের রঙ দেখে।
The tradition is to cook biryani with tamarind tree wood – it is said that the simmer also has layers. They do not use modern equipment such as a thermometer to measure the cooking temperature – good chefs cook biryani attentive to the colors of the fire.
বিরিয়ানী রাঁধতে গেলে নাকি চাল ভিজিয়ে রাখতে হয় দুধের মধ্যে সারারাত। সেই দুধে একটু কেশর মেশানো থাকবে। আর যে পাত্রে বিরিয়ানী হবে সেই পাত্রের নিচের তলে তেজ পাতার একটা লেয়ার দিয়ে রাখতে হবে।
To cook, you must dip the rice in milk overnight. Add some saffron in that milk. And at the bottom of the pot, where the biryani will be cooked, there will be a layer of bay leaves.
Bridal and Biryani ceremonies
In addition to the traditional rituals of Bangladeshi weddings, the main attraction of these celebrations remains the succulent food. Without biryani, wedding arrangements are considered incomplete. Moreover, it is known that there are contractors fighting over the lack of biryani on the wedding menu. Biryani Kachchi is the one typically served at wedding parties.
This is a look at some biryani recipes that are served at weddings:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqLpdq0S5qo (/ embed)
Biryani is much more than food
For Bangladeshis, Biryani is another name for love. They never tire of eating it, and because of its rich ingredients and spices, it is a meal that satisfies and fills quickly. In the words of Indian poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, “I have loved you hundreds of times in hundreds of ways!”
A tweet by Hasib Gazi takes that feeling:
সমুদ্র, বিরিয়ানি আর সুস্বাদু চা হলে জীবনে বাকিটা সময় একা একা কাটিয়ে দিতে পারবো! ❤
– Mohammed Hasib Gazi (Shakibian) (@hasibgazi) March 10, 2019
Seeing the sea, eating Biryani and drinking delicious tea – I can spend the rest of my life alone!
If reading this already opened your appetite, come to Dhaka and enjoy the taste of biryani in any of these establishments, famous for offering the most delicious biriyani dishes in the city.