Awadhi Biryani From The Land Of Nawabs

Team  Chronicle

The very mention of Awadh brings to mind the refined taste and politeness of its royalty. But what perhaps appeals the most today is the world famous cuisine of Awadh – a culmination of all that was best in art, culture and science – setting indeed a very high standard of gastronomic delight. Blessed with a rich and varied cultural heritage we, Indians, are proud of the wide array of food available in our country but there is one thing which perhaps unites us and that is the love for irresistible biryani.


Biryani was derived from the Persian word ‘beryan’ and literally means ‘fried before cooking’. There are many interesting anecdotes on the evolution of biryani but it is generally believed that the credit for introducing this marvelous one-dish-meal goes to the fourth Nawab of Awadh – Asaf-ud-Daulah (1775-97). He moved his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow harbouring an ambition to outshine the splendour of Mughal architecture. He built a number of monuments including the famed AsafiImambara (commonly known as BadaImambara). A vaulted structure surrounded by beautiful gardens its construction was taken up by the Nawab as a charitable project to generate employment for 20,000 people during the terrible famine of 1784. The Bhulbhulaiya at BadaImambara is a unique labyrinth of intricate balconies and passages with 489 identical doorways creating a maze from which the only strong hearted can emerge.

Since even the nobles were reduced to penury by the famine Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah employed a novel plan. During daytime, commoners took up construction work while on the night of every fourth day, the nobles and aristocrats would demolish the built structure under the cover of darkness. This subtlety allowed the aristocracy to preserve its dignity. In order to feed this huge army of construction workers, large cauldrons were filled with rice, meat and vegetables, sealed with dough and cooked slowly for hours to create a one-dish meal. Both the style of “dum-cooking” – hallmark of Awadhi cuisine and Biryani emerged out of this innovation. The work force was thus given a heavy nutritious meal so that they could work for longer hours without feeling hungry. It allowed the spices and the meat to release their flavours gently and retain their natural aromas. One day on his rounds, the Nawab himself caught a whiff of the aroma emanating from one of these cauldrons and immediately instructed his royal cooks to serve the dish.  He liked its taste and aroma immensely and it started gracing his dastarkhan frequently. Over a short period of time, the cooks innovated a bit and removed vegetables and started adding saffron, milk etc and the rest is history. The world was gifted a new dish – Awadhi biryani. With the passage of time, Awadhi biryani’s popularity only spread far and wide.

Journey to Calcutta

It was in 1856 when Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last ruler of Awadh came to Calcutta after his kingdom was annexed by the British on false charges of maladministration, that biryani along with thumri were firmly planted in the marshy soil of this colonial city. The Nawab was accompanied by a large retinue including some of his favourite chefs. These were master chefs who were patronised and pampered by the Awadh Nawabs and their experimentation and innovation with ingredients to prepare delectable food was greatly encouraged in the royal court. The royal kitchen thus saw lot of experimentation and in the course of such innovation the humble potato was added to biryani and it appealed to the Nawab’s taste buds. Very soon this additional supplement became an instant hit. Though the popular story goes that the deposed Wajid Ali Shah could no longer afford meat and so he directed his chefs to replace it with potato it was far from the truth since he received an annual pension of Rs 12 lakh – sufficient for the upkeep of his refined taste and interest.

Hyderabadi Biryani

After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mughal Empire collapsed and AsafJah, the Mughal viceroy in Hyderabad declared himself independent and thereafter the Nizams ruled Hyderabad. The AsafJah rulers like the nawabs of Awadh were great patrons of art, literature, culture and rich food. The concept of biryani reached Deccan and was adopted after some intermingling with the local cuisine. Hyderabadi biryani is essentially of two types, the Kachchi biryani, and the Pakki biryani. The main difference with Awadhi biryani lies in the fact that a paste of coriander leaves, mint leaves and green chilies is used to the marinate the meat for preparing both types of Hyderabadi biryani. Moreover, this biryani is usually accompanied with side dishes like Dahi Chutney (yogurt and onions), Mirch-ka-Salan-a curry of hot green chili and Baghare Baingan (a preparation of brinjal). The Hyderabadi biryani is slightly soggy, tangy and more spicy, in taste compared to its more famous North Indian counterpart.

It is no surprise that biryani is extremely popular in Awadh’s last nawab’s adopted city. Although the popularity of this royal dish in Calcutta far surpasses the combined popularity of Chinese food, continental and roll for that matter there are very few places where you can get authentic biryani. The best bet is those Muslim homes where cooking is still considered a sophisticated art and dealt with a lot of passion and Awadh’s famous hospitality. The host of popular restaurants which have mushroomed in different parts of the city have commercialised this dish and makes you feel heavy after a meal. It is a far cry from the unforgettable taste of authentic Awadhi biryani which with the right ingredients in right proportion would always be light on your stomach.


Mutton – 500 grams

Basmati Rice – 500 grams

Ginger-Garlic Paste – 4 tea spoon

Coriander Powder – 1 tea spoon

Onions finely sliced of 2 medium size

Onion Paste of one medium size

Chilli – 1 tea spoon

Cloves – 5 pieces

Cardamoms – 5 pieces

Cinnamon – 1 piece

Bay Leaf – 2 pieces

Nutmeg Paste – 1/2 tea spoon

Mace – 1 small blade

Curd -100 grams

Saffron – A few strands

Milk – 1/2 cup

Keora Water – 4 table spoon

Orange Food Colour – A little

Ghee -150 grams

Salt – According to taste


Method:  In ghee, fry the onions and keep aside. Wash and soak the rice for 30 minutes to an hour. Heat ghee and put three cloves, three cardamoms, cinnamon and a bay leaf. Put the meat pieces and add ginger-garlic paste, onion paste, coriander powder, nutmeg paste, mace, curd and fry properly. Now add the previously fried onions and cook the meat till tender.

For the Rice: Heat the ghee and add two cloves, two cardamoms, cinnamon and a bay leaf. Fry them for a few minutes and add the soaked and the drained rice. Cook it adding some boiled water till half done. Now spread a layer of rice in a patila, place a layer of mutton and top it up with rice. Sprinkle saffron mixed with keora, milk and orange food colour. Put the patila on a low flame for 30 minutes and keep the lid tight. Serve hot preferably with raita.