Hyderabadi Biriyani and what makes it delicious

Food Contributor

Mutbakh-e-Asifya. Asifya Cusines. The importance of the bilingual cookbook, so titled, can hardly be overstated in India’s culinary history. Surprisingly, it is a very recent compilation. Although collated from authentic historical documents, Mutbakh-e-Asifya was published only in 2013 as an Urdu-English book by the Siasat Publications of Hyderabad.

The Indian city of Hyderabad, now in the state of Telengana, is marked by two indelible identities: the Nizams and the Biryani. The former were the rulers of the Hyderabad State, comprising modern-day Telengana, parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra, as the Asaf Jahi dynasty, between 1724 and 1948. The later is a version of that unmatched Indian delicacy, which is broadly known as the Biryani. Biryanis, across the subcontinent, can be classified into many categories. In terms of their probable place of origin, I have so far been able to identify over 40.

Biriyani- from Awadhi to Hyderabadi

Yet out of these three really stand out as not only distinct in taste, but also in terms of their immense popularity: The Lucknowi or the Awadhi Biryani, the Hyderabadi Biryani and the Kolkata or Metia Burj Biryani. Out of these three, again, the Hyderabadi one is radically different. Indeed, not only Biryani, Hyderabadi cuisine, as a whole, including Kebabs, Nans (flat breads), and of course Biryanis has long obtained a fabled status. Abdul Halim Sharrar, the famous author of the legendary book on the last vestiges of the glory of the Nawabs of Lucknow, has narrated through wonderful anecdotes how the famous chefs of Lucknow flocked to Nizams’ princely kitchens in the late second half of the 19th century.

One anecdote narrates how a chef from Lucknow, who went over to the kitchen of the then Nizam was a particular favourite of the ruler. That was because he used to cook a pie, which the Nizam took particular delight in serving to his British guests. The moment the eaters cut the pie for eating, birds would flow out of it stunning the guests.

Coinage of Hyderabadi cuisine

Well, the Asifya Cuisine doesn’t include any recipe so breathtaking, but it is, to the best of my knowledge, the only authentic collection of recipes of food cooked in Nizams’s kitchen. There can absolutely no doubt that what has become the celebrated Hyderabadi cuisine, came out of the Asaf Jahi dynasties palace-kitchens. While, the internet is agog with recipes, each claiming to be ‘authentic’, of such Nizami dishes, none of them stand the test of serious scrutiny. And here in lies the importance of Mutbakh-e-Asifya.

The editor of the book, noted scholar Allama Aijaz Farrokh, indicates in the introduction of the book, that he had basically translated into Urdu an older compilation, with the same title, but with names of ingredients in Greek, Arabic and Persian. He also indicates that the original book was a collation of recipes of Hyderabadi cuisine that had excelled during the reigns of the sixth Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan and the last Nizam Mir Osman Ali. While it is a treasure trove for foodies and culinary historians, Allama Farookh rightly points out Hyderabadi cuisine is an amazing representation of India’s syncretic culture, which absorbed the best of numerous traditions, including those from the West, such as the Portuguese and the British.

I don’t intend to leave you with just information! Should you be a foody, here is a delicacy you should eagerly take pains to cook:

Hyderabadi Mahboobi Biryani (Biryani for the Beloved)


Mutton: 2 Kgs

Rice: 1 Kg

Ghee: 350 Grams

Cinnamon: 1 Grams

Cardamom: 6 Grams

Saffron: 3 Grams

Milk: 400 Grams

Milk cream: 150 Grams

Ginger: 80 Grams

Garlic: 60 Grams

Onion: 175 Grams

Curd (Sour): 400 Grams

Green Bengal Gram: 250 Grams

Caraway: 2 Grams

Salt: 80 Grams

Chironji (Buchanania Lanzan seeds): 12 Grams

Poppy seed: 12 Grams

Coriander: 12 Grams

Gram Flour: 50 Grams

Lemon: 4

Coriander green leaves: 12 Grams

Mint leaves: Few

Red Chili Powder: 25 Grams

Green Chili Paste: 25 Grams


Take 1.5 Kg of mutton in pieces.

Mix it with 25 Grams of salt, ginger paste and curd, and leave to marinate.

Fry chopped onions in 200 Grams of ghee, till it becomes red.

Drop mutton with spices in it.

Take ½ Kg of mutton, mince it and mix it with crushed chironji, poppy seeds, coriander and cumin seeds, and red and green chili pastes. Put in salt to taste, and shape balls (kofta) out of it. Fry the koftas.

When the curd water is drained, fry the mutton. If it is not well cooked at some water and cook it well.

When it is ready, add milk, cream, lemon juice, caraway, cardamom, minced meat balls, and put it in one layer.

Spread on it boiled rice, after drying it half. Strain it with saffron on one side of the cauldron, and sprinkle the green Bengal gram on the other half. Mix the remaining ghee with milk and pour.

Close the lid of the cauldron. Seal it with dough. Put it on coal fire.

When Ghee starts giving sound, minimize the fire.

When smell comes out it is ready to eat.

(Source: Matbakh-E-Asifya / Asifya Cuisines. P 94-95)


My Note: Cumin is not mentioned in the list of ingredients. I would suggest, leave it out.


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)

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