A BRIEF HISTORY OF
BIRYANI OR BRIANI

Spicy, tasty, accompanied by achards and a cucumber salad, spiced up with a chilli purée, Briani is without doubt one of the emblematic dishes of Mauritian cuisine. But how did it get to our tizil? First of all, a bit of etymology: the word biryani comes from the Persian word Pakka Birian which means “fried before caisson”. Biryani, a dish cooked with rice and spices, was introduced to northern India in the fifteenth century by the Mughals. It was known as Pakka Biryani because most of the ingredients are pre-cooked and then put together in a pot (deg) to cook over a slow fire (dum). The deg is sealed with a strip of dough and placed on a slow fire until the Briani is cooked to perfection. This method of cooking is called “dum pukht”: by preventing the steam from escaping all the flavours of the spices are locked in for a very tasty result.
In the seventeenth century, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, became the Mughal capital of the Bengal province. The subadhars, officers in charge of the administration of the province, came to Dhaka accompanied by their cooks. Some of these cooks remained in Dhaka after the departure of the subadhars and opened stalls offering Mughal cuisine. In the nineteenth century, after the abolition of slavery and the need for labour on the sugar plantations in Mauritius, the English administration decided to use Indian workers. This is how the Briani and the Carry arrived in Mauritius to the great pleasure of our taste buds. There are many variations of this dish, made with rice, potatoes, spices: saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, aniseed, cloves and fresh herbs. It can be prepared with chicken, beef, fish or even a vegetarian version with vegetables and soy. Briani is a must for weddings, family meals and religious celebrations, but it is also very popular in “street food”, sold in the trunk of cars or in small stalls. As I am only Mauritian at heart, I would not allow myself to give you a recipe for Briani, a dish that I have never ventured to cook because I am convinced that for a Briani to be good, it must have been prepared by a Mauritian.
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