So here's a little secret...some of the best Biryanis in the world are made in South India. In fact I find it easier to find superb Biryanis in every South Indian town and city than to find a truly satisfying dosa. I was reminded of this today while driving from Coimbatore to Coonoor when I ate an amazing meal of mutton Biryani, chicken Biryani and chicken 65 served from a giant degchi at a hole in the wall called Thalappakattu Biryani.
When we think of Biryani we automatically think of Hyderabadi or Awadhi (Lucknowi) Biryani. We think of Biryani as being a quintessentially Mughal-inspired dish and even the great Bengal style Biryani's at Arsalan and Aliya are a humbler iteration of the Awadhi Biryani. I grew up with this fallacy and used to believe that what made a Biryani great was the subtlety and the fragrance, the extraordinary jugalbandi as the flavours of the meat soak into the rice.
No one thinks of Biryani as a South Indian speciality but it's true! There is another diametrically opposite way to make Biryani, one that takes a completely rustic, humbler approach to the Biryani and across every town in every state in south India you cannot be disappointed if you go looking for it.
People in Bangalore are familiar with the Andhra style Biryani at Nagarjuna but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Whether it is the "donne" Biryani in Bangalore wrapped in a leaf, the moplah Biryani in Kerala, the Chettinad Biryani in Tamil Nadu, every region in every state has its own Biryani with endless variations in spice, fragrance, cooking styles and flavour. Even within states, the prawn Biryani in Kochi is different from that in Calicut. The Biryani in Ponnusami in Chennai is a distant cousin of the one in Junior Kuppanna a kilometre away. Even in Hyderabad, the city of Biryani, you can either have a spicy Biryani at Rayalseema Ruchulu or one with avakai pickle, chicken and horsegram paste in Ulavacharu.
I could go on and on, but here's my point. There's more to Biryani than you realise and that one dish represents a multitude of amazing meals and an extraordinary journey of discovery. Don't be fooled by the five-star hotels and their bland Lucknowi rip-offs or believe that any meat dish cooked in rice and doused in masala like Cafe Noorani is a Biryani.
A Biryani was created because it comforted the soul. Whether it was the sophisticated nawab or the humble soldier who served him, a Biryani was meant to be one of life's great pleasures. So if it doesn't leave your soul satisfied and with a sense of well being and happiness, it's not a Biryani.