Pulao and biryani are two most loved dishes in the Indian cuisine. However there is always confusion between the two delicious rice preparations. The history tells us that the dish originated with pulao and then transformed to biryani.
Pulao is most common dish in Indian homes. This flavored rice is made either with choice of meat or Vegetables. This flavorful dish is said to be originated from the Middle Eastern kingdoms. The word is ascribed to the Persian and Arabic pilaf, pulao and pallao. The first persian recipe Is said to be found in the books of tenth century Persian scholar Avicenna. Although the dish is credited to the Persians, we can trace its roots into Sanskrit literatures such as yagnavalkya smriti as pallao-mevach and early Tamil literature of third to sixth century A.D. This rice preparation was an integral part of the cuisine in Mughal era. The Ain –i-Akhbari specifies a pulao of minced meat (kheema) , 10 seers , that is about a Kg of rice and meat, made with 4 seers of ghee, 1 seer of dehusked gram, and 2 seers of onion, along with fresh ginger, pepper, cumin seeds , cardamom and cloves. The meat used would mostly be of sheep, chicken or goat.
Emperor Akbar was a great lover of the artists and intellectuals. He is known to have nine gems or intellectuals in his court, He had Abu’l-Fazl ,Raja Todar Mal, Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, Birbal, Mulla Do-Piyaza, Faizi , Fakir Aziao-Din, Tansen, Raja Man Singh I as his nine gems. To honour these intecelutals a multi colored pulao was created. This dish was also served to Alexander the Great at a royal banquet following his capture of the Sogdian capital of Marakanda.
Another variation of pulao was served during the Mughal era, this was sweet in taste and had rich aroma and flavor of saffron in it. this pulao was called Zarda, which in Persia means yellow in color. This pulao was served as desert after a meal. In the Mughal era this dish had addition of small fried sweetmeat pieces called ‘Mutanjan’. This dish was a favorite of Emperor Shahjahan. And was must for a special guests.
Pulao later evolved to biryani in the mogul era. Biryani is also of Persian origin , where meat and rice was cooked together. However with Mughal culinary techniques biryani received a new style of cooking. Biryani had high spices and exotic aroma of kewra , saffron and even certain attar (perfume) were added to it. The dish was cooked using layering technique, where the meat layer was covered with rice and then again layered with meat followed by rice. And the special dum cooking was done for biryani which was not necessary for pulao.
After the Mughal era , biryani was made in variations across the Indian subcontinent. The Hyderabad had its own version of biryani, and Kolkata had its own. The only thing that distinguished each biryani was either ingredients or cooking techniques.