Mumbai-based businessman Sankirt Bhargav admits that his love affair with vegetarian biryani started with a desire for fusion. His college friends were non-vegetarians, so every time they sat down together for a meal, he didn’t want to go out like a sore thumb.
“I always had vegan alternatives to everything they had and biryani was at the top of that list,” said the 26-year-old. “I have [heard] People talk about an explosion of aromatic flavors from the first bite.”
But the dislike towards having vegetarian biryani is almost universal. Celebrities have gone on record denying their existence, and the die-hard carnivore is often only turned on by her very apt name, and has been the butt of endless memes and attackers.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle, there are dedicated groups that hate and support just as hard. In 2018, VICE interviewed a vegetarian biryani “zealot” who protested at India Gate to get the dish the recognition he believed it deserved. This was shortly followed by editorials supporting these amusing protests. One columnist wrote, “My dislike of vegetable biryani isn’t just childish. It’s problematic. Almost as conservative heterosexual couples feel that allowing same-sex marriage somehow negates the sanctity of the institution, many hardcore biryani fans feel that vegetable biryani is an attack on their culinary choices.”
But… is vegetarian biryani a legit thing? And if so, is our collective hatred towards her really childish, problematic? What do we end up losing in all this noise? And from historical, anthropological, and personal perspectives, what are we invalidating?
Food anthropologist Kourosh Dalal asserts that the dish is not something made as many believe. Vegetarian or vegetarian biryani is known as an aromatic Indian dish consisting of rice and vegetables flavored with a mixture of spices including cumin, turmeric, cardamom, and coriander. Peas, carrots, potatoes and capsicum (green peppers) are usually the vegetables that make their way into vegetarian biryani. Special ingredients can include paneer, which is a type of Indian cheese.
Rice and vegetables are first cooked in portions, separately. For the final cooking stage, the rice and vegetables are arranged in alternating layers in a large, thick-bottomed pot covered with a lid and then sealed with dough made from whole wheat flour. The dish is garnished with coriander leaves or freshly chopped coriander just before serving.
A vendor arranges biryani sitting in his pickup truck while waiting for customers in the old quarters of New Delhi. You’re most likely to see biryani made with meat on the streets of India, but that doesn’t mean many don’t like the vegetable version. Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images
This slow cooking process, known as dum, is meant to help ensure ingredients cook evenly under pressure, Dalal explained. “So, the origin of Indian biryani is a very simple dish where meat and rice are cooked together in the morning, put in a closed pot in the back of the bullock cart with the mobile army, and eaten on the go or at the end of the journey where it was served hot,” Dalal said. .
“There are very rare types of biryani in India such as Lason ki Biryani, where whole garlic cloves make up the ‘meat’ of the matter, so to speak,” he said. “When rice and meat [in a traditional biryani] Cooked together, it’s called kachche gosht ki biryani (literally, raw meat biryani, though don’t freak out — the meat isn’t raw when you finally eat it). The most common [cooking method] It is to cook the meat separately, and then put a layer of rice on it.”
Chef Hussain Shahzad, who works with popular Mumbai restaurants Canteen Bombay and O Pedro, shares the theory that the idea for the biryani came when the Mughal queen, Mumtaz Mahal, visited army camps and found soldiers looking frail and malnourished. “I instructed [cooks] To prepare rice and meat to provide the soldiers with a balanced meal – the result was Biryani. He added, “Vegetarian biryani came into existence when the regime (Muslim rulers) in Mysore hired accountants.” These accountants were Hindus by faith and followed a vegetarian diet. In order to feed them, the royal kitchens had to incorporate their dishes into the menu.
Dalal explained that it is a misconception that biryani is nothing but a North Indian dish that needs to be cooked with long grain rice. In southern and central India, the most popular biryanis contain short-grain rice, or sometimes even tapioca cooked with meat (kappa biryani), a variant found in Kerala, popular because it is more affordable. “So, the biryani is based on the processes and is not just related to the ingredient. There are a large number of biryanis all over the country, so if people want to eat vegetarian biryani, they have more kudos.”
Aditi Gupta’s perfect Sunday is inseparable from the vegetarian biryani, particularly the soya-based kind of it. Almost every Sunday, the family—including cousins who also eat non-vegetarian food—gathers around a pot of steamed soybean biryani.
“This is our family’s traditional biryani. “My cousins are going to cancel all plans and go get biryani,” said the 24-year-old Kolkata-based journalist. “The soybeans are fried separately in mustard oil seasoned with spices and then covered with layers of rice. When you gently press on the soybean pieces, the dripping essential oil oozes out. It is not chewy like mutton and the biryani is easy on my stomach.”
Pratik Sadhu, a Mumbai-based chef who has received global attention for the foraging techniques he brings to the table, told VICE that Indian food literature abounds with how vegetables get into biryani. He said that by some accounts, potatoes became a major ingredient in biryani in India (particularly those in West Bengal) due to the scarcity of meat during the long periods of famine.
Biryani and pulao debate
A running joke among biryani lovers is that vegetarian biryani is not biryani, to begin with. Although the layering and slow-cooking process is the same, the lack of meat just doesn’t cut it. In fact, the difference is more subtle and has nothing to do with the lack of meat.
Sadhu, a Kashmiri Pandit, shares that the most popular biryani dish in his home state of Kashmir, a Muslim-dominated region, is vegetarian.
“Because we are so diverse, every region has its own personal history associated with all things biryani,” he told VICE. So, tehri has the flavor of rice cooked in mustard oil with crispy potatoes on top, and then there’s the equally popular gucchi pulao. In gucchi pulao, the star ingredient, or meat counterpart, is a variety of spongy mushroom known as gucchi—it’s grown In the wild, it is known for its nutritional and medicinal properties.It is also considered one of the most expensive mushrooms, with a kilogram price of 36,000 rupees ($450).
Biryani and pulao are both dishes made with rice and a variety of other ingredients, such as meat, vegetables, and spices. However, one of the main differences between them is the way the rice and other ingredients are cooked. In biryani, the rice and other ingredients are cooked separately and then layered together and cooked again, often with the addition of yogurt or other liquids such as rose water. This results in a dish that has distinct layers of flavor and texture, as the rice is partially cooked by the time the other ingredients are layered. In contrast, in pulao, the rice and other ingredients are cooked together in the same pot, resulting in a dish that is more uniform in flavor and texture.
Another major difference between the two dishes is the spices used. Biryani is usually made with a blend of strongly aromatic spices such as cumin, coriander, cardamom, and turmeric, which gives the dish a bold and complex flavour. In contrast, pulao is usually made using fewer and milder spices, such as bay leaves, cinnamon, and cloves, which give the dish a more subtle and delicate flavour.
However, food anthropologist Dalal said that biryani and pulao are stir-fried more often in India. What one family might call biryani, another family might call pulao. If you look at the origin of the word biryani, it is decisions From Persia (which translates as “fried before cooking”). Therefore, the word does not contain rice, but was served as a paste of meat served on a flat bread disc. So, dishes travel and change shape.”
And as far as India is concerned, Dalal made it clear that being a vegetarian is a privilege in every sense of the word. The less fortunate among us, including indigenous communities, cannot afford to be strictly vegetarian. According to many scholars, a major reason for the same is that the land, on which these vegetables are to be grown, was originally only accessible to the privileged classes. Therefore, pork and beef became readily available because the privileged classes did not want them. “Only the upper castes and upper castes in India can be vegetarians.”
In the case of Pragati Jindal, a 26-year-old fashion designer based in Delhi, the painstaking process of putting together a vegetarian biryani that gives her satisfaction is second to none. Only recently, she followed her grandmother’s recipe, without the meat, to her friends and family, who didn’t acknowledge the beauty of vegetarian biryani. I tracked paneer overnight with curd, turmeric, and chilies, just like how the meat is prepared.
“From the star flower (star anise) to the bay leaf, I used all the exotic spices in the paneer biryani, sealing the rim with raw wheat flour dough and slow-cooking it for hours,” she said. “When I got my friends to taste it, they could taste the way I repeated the process and be loyal to the slowness and subtlety of it all.”
Businessman Bhargav made peace with the people which nullified the existence and value of the vegetarian biryani. He cited the example of an intercollegiate debate competition where he and his friend participated – betting that they would travel all the way to Hyderabad for the best vegetarian biryani, should they win. And they won.
“Someone might say that it is a pity that I eat vegetarian biryani in a city like Hyderabad that is so famous [mutton] He said “Biryani”. Now, I don’t know if this veggie was great or not, but it was definitely helpful in creating a stronger bond. [with my friend]. How do I give this context to an ignorant person? ”
As Indians, Dalal said we are often very opinionated, and there is no room for change. “Opinions are like an anus—everyone has one, but you don’t necessarily need to air your opinions in public. Why would you want to hurt someone over something as happy as food?”
For his part, Chef Shahzad admitted that while he wouldn’t necessarily go for a vegetarian biryani, he couldn’t rule out the intricacies of assembling it. “For someone to be able to take a vegetable like laoki (bottle gourd) and make biryani using traditional techniques and present it in such a luxurious way is amazing.”
The way Dalal sees it, when it comes to food, family traditions come first. “Truth has many flavours, so why should you mock someone else’s traditions? As much as you would not like your own to be trivialized, why bother with someone else’s?”
Tell that to the next person who scoffs at your vegetarian biryani order, throw some date nuggets his way, and shut it down for good. If that doesn’t work, just stuff their face with some vegetable biryani.
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