The Awadhi Biryani: Tender in Texture, Mild of Manner

The royal kitchens of the Nawabs created this opulent, rich yet deliciously nuanced biryani

Kalyani Sardesai

If ever there was a food for the soul, guaranteed to touch a deep chord within, this would be it. First created by the khansamas of the Nawab of erstwhile Awadh (aka Uttar Pradesh), the Awadhi or Lucknowi biryani has traversed time, distance and geography to make a mark amongst the most hallowed dishes of not just India, but the world.

And if you think this is hyperbole, you really have not tasted the real stuff. What separates this biryani from the rest, are the softer textures and finely layered spices. Moist, tender and superbly nuanced, with cashew nut paste, saffron, star anise, mace and curd as some of the more important ingredients--this is more than a biryani, it's an experience.

Wahid Mia's, the biryani outlet set up in Lucknow by Wahid Qureshi in 1955, is a testimony to the adage old is gold. His elder son Shahid Qureshi says the recipe belonged to his grandfather, a chef in the kitchen of the Raja of Mehmoodabad. "My father first took up a theka in the subzi mandi of Lucknow. From the very first day, the biryani was a hit, and the rest, as they say, is history," he shares. "While you can get variations in chicken and fish, I would recommend mutton for those with a yen for the classic."

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With 18 outlets in all, Wahid Mia's success, according to his son, is defined by his sheer attention to detail. "Making a choice biryani—and retaining its standard-year after year needs you to really believe in what you do. We certainly do—and it shows," he smiles. Mutton biryani is Rs 700-800 a kilo, chicken for Rs 600.

This biryani, is light and is anchored by a yakhni stock from meat that is slowly boiled in water redolent with spices for a good 2 or 3 hours. "Think gentle, aromatic, rich and cultured—like the Nawabs themselves," says Amit Atri, a dedicated biryani lover, originally from Lucknow, now settled in Delhi. "For those who prefer a stronger flavour, there is a chutney made available. I tried making this at home; it really wasn't the same thing. But let me tell you one secret: the longer you marinate the meat, the finer the taste. And whatever you do, don't commit the sacrilege of leaving out the kaju paste and zaffran. Some tastes are meant to be royal."

To beat the heat in summer, serve with raita; in the winter, serve with shorba. The spices should be fresh and dry roasted, and the rice soaked in water to make each grain fluff up. This isn't the biryani for short-cuts. Make it only when you have the time, and a well-stocked kitchen that doesn't leave out a single ingredient. After all, the Nawabs liked to live well.

More Biryani Stories

We are big fans of biryani at Living Foodz. Don't forget to check out our other biryani stories:

Kalyani Biryani

You may have heard about Hyderabadi biryani but have you heard about Kalyani biryani? This biryani, which comes loaded with pieces of beef, is from the kitchens of the nawabs who settled in Hyderabad in the 18th century. Read the full story of Kalyani Biryani.

Kayees Biryani

The Kayees Biryani belongs to a cafe in Kochi which introduced this biryani in the 1940s. It is so popular that the mutton biryani and chicken biryani get over just a few hours after the cafe opens. Read the full story of Kayees Biryani.

Malabar Biryani

Kerala boasts two types of Biryani named after two districts: Thalassery biryani and Kozikhode biryani. Made with the local short-grained rice, both Malabar biryani types feature the same ingredients but cooked differently. Find out what sets the two biryani types apart.

Chettinad Biryani

Biryani is a popular non-vegetarian dish in Chettinad, Tamil Nadu. But this biryani from Chettinad has its own distinct flavours setting it apart from the other biryanis you may have tried. Read the full story of Chettinad Biryani.

Kolkata Biryani

Biryani was introduced in Kolkata when a Nawab from Awadh made the city his home in 1856. In the Kolkata biryani, you will find golden potatoes and hard-boiled eggs along with meat and rice. To know more about Kolkata biryani and where you can get the best plate of this biryani, read the full story.

Hyderabadi Biryani

Think Hyderabad and the first thing to come to mind is the flavourful biryani that the city is famous for. But did you know there are two popular types of Hyderabadi biryani? Find out what's different about these two types of Hyderabadi biryani.


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