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India’s Quirky Love Affair with Biryani

Unveiling our country's diverse tales woven around biryani, from star-studded feasts and wedding fiascos to political showdowns and community bonding

15 Feb '24
8 min read


I don't think we can ever have enough of biryani. During the India vs Pakistan World Cup match, 250 biryani orders were processed every minute by Swiggy. According to the food aggregator’s  2023 statistics, India collectively witnessed an impressive rate of 2.5 biryanis ordered per second, with a notable ratio of 5.5 chicken biryanis for every veg biryani. Hyderabad outshone other cities, contributing to every sixth biryani order. This biryani craze resulted in 2.49 million new users on Swiggy, marking their initiation with a biryani order. The demand for biryani was underscored by a substantial 4,030,827 searches on Swiggy, reaffirming its enduring popularity. Remarkably, biryani maintained its reign as India's favourite dish for the eighth consecutive year.

It’s justified. Where will you find a dish where each bite bursts with flavour, releasing the intricate dance of spices, the richness of the meat, and the delicate notes of the chosen ingredients? It's a feast for the eyes, the nose, and above all, the taste buds. Every joyous occasion is often celebrated with this bursting flavourful dish. 

Beyond its delicious layers, the dish simmers with a unique blend of stories. From fueling box-office battles and political manoeuvres to uniting families and bringing hope in disasters, it's a dish that transcends taste, becoming a woven tapestry of love, laughter, and sometimes even life-saving moments.

Let’s take a look at some of them. 

Celebrity chronicles

The allure of homemade biryani is undeniable, especially when it’s from closed ones. In 2014, Ambatti Rayudu, a teammate of MS Dhoni in Team India, sent a batch of Hyderabadi biryani to the team in Hyderabad during the IPL. However, ITC Kakatiya, where the team was staying, strictly prohibited outside food, forcing the Super Kings to relocate to The Taj Krishna and move away from the 180 rooms. It's still uncertain whether The Taj allowed them to enjoy the biryani from Rayudu's kitchen.

In Hyderabad, tennis star Sania Mirza treated Shah Rukh Khan and the entire cast of his film, Dilwale, to a lavish biryani meal. Expressing gratitude on Twitter, SRK thanked Sania for the delicious biryani and complimented the tennis champion. 

For Bollywood actor Salman Khan biryani is his love language. During the shoot of Tiger Zinda Hai in Austria, Bollywood actor Salman Khan invited his co-star child actor Sartaaj and his mother to a biryani meal prepared by his chef. Sartaaj’s mother was surprised to see the actor to go out of his way for him. Khan even threw a biryani party for the entire cast and crew of his film Bajrangi Bhaijaan. 

Bollywood's renowned perfectionist, Aamir Khan, is celebrated for his affinity for indulgent and flavorful Mughlai cuisine. His love for biryani is so profound that the SP Pune Biryani House in Pune introduced a special dish named after him – the Aamir Special Mutton Biryani. This particular biryani, first enjoyed by the actor, has become his go-to dish, solidifying the restaurant as his preferred spot.

SP Pune Biryani House promoting a dish named after the actor Aamir Khan

Down south Tamil actor Ajith, popularly known as Thala, has a well-known passion for cooking biryani, especially Hyderabadi biryani. This culinary interest has become a unique tradition on the sets of his films, creating a sense of anticipation among his co-stars and crew members. In 2014, during the shooting of his 55th film, Ajith showcased his culinary skills as he prepared biryani for the entire film crew of 100 people, including director Gautham Menon. The tradition was practised at Venkat Prabhu's Mankatha, Vishnu Vardhan's Billa, and Siruthai Siva's Veeram sets. Thala's biryani gained such popularity that fans and biryani enthusiasts can find the recipe online under the name ‘Thala Ajith biryani.’

Pic Courtesy: Kannamma Cooks

In 2013, Rajnikanth's Kochadaiiyaan faced challenges at the box office. In response, devoted Thalaiva fans orchestrated a large-scale rally in Bangalore to boost the film's promotion. As an incentive, they offered free biryani to locals who watched the movie. Regrettably, the biryani bait wasn't enough to rescue the film from becoming a box-office disaster. Nevertheless, biryani is always a welcome treat.

From feast to fistfight

While there are stories highlighting people's deep fondness for biryani, there are also instances where this culinary delight has stirred trouble and controversy. In a noteworthy incident in Bangalore in 2014, a marriage was abruptly called off due to a biryani-related dispute. The groom's party insisted on mutton biryani but was served chicken biryani, sparking a tumultuous disagreement. As tensions escalated into a heated brawl between the families, the bride ultimately chose to call off the wedding.

Ballot Box Bite or Community Connection

Biryani and politics have a flavourful relationship. Just google election and biryani and one can get an idea of how this dish has been lured to bring in voters. But who started the trend? Though it’s difficult to put a time frame to it, the December 19 elections in Chennai in 2009 earned the nickname ‘biryani bypolls.’ The reason is evident as voters were treated to biryani packets during the campaigns along with the usual lures like liquor, money, clothes, and mobile recharge cards. It marked a new trend of winning voters over through their stomachs.

In 2021, the electoral contest in Huzurabad, Telangana transformed from a battle of ballots to a battle for biryani, as both the TRS and the BJP vied to win the election as a matter of prestige. When the poll schedule was announced, the demand for chicken and mutton biryani doubled, inundating local hotels with substantial bulk orders from political leaders. This surge was driven by the need to supply daily biryani packets, coupled with cash, to facilitate campaign activities for the workers. Each party was projected to spend a minimum of Rs 2 lakh daily on biryani during the polls, with a collective demand of 3000kg. Both parties even had specialised teams dedicated to procuring biryani and organising food for their respective workers.

Pic Courtesy: YouTube Channel Amazing Food Zone

However, the approach is lately under the scanner as last year a BJP candidate faced trouble during his campaign when he extended an invitation to voters for a biryani feast, leading to a complaint against him for attempting to influence voters. BJP MLA ST Somashekar was accused of violating the election Model Code of Conduct (MCC) after a video captured him encouraging the public to partake in biryani being distributed as part of his campaign.

At times, biryani is also a dish served as a political weapon. The victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2020 Delhi Assembly elections led to a spike in biryani sales in the national capital. This surge was a direct response to remarks made by certain senior BJP leaders, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, suggesting that AAP provided biryani to anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters at Shaheen Bagh.

There are occasions when government individuals use biryani as a tool for community engagement. In 2016, Kozhikode's district collector, Prashanth Nair, ingeniously incentivized community work by offering biryani as a reward for residents cleaning a 14-acre pond. Funded by the district's drought prevention fund, this unconventional approach led to successful coordination in clearing the pond of water hyacinth and slush. 

750 people cleaned the Pisharikavu lake in Koyilandy. Pic courtesy: The News Minute

A culinary saviour 

At times, biryani has also played a heroic role. This was evident during the devastating 2015 flood in Chennai, claiming over 200 lives and submerging countless homes. Social startup Give Away, in collaboration with The Arcot Foundation, orchestrated the delivery of 5000 packets of Paradise biryani from Hyderabad on December 3. These packets, each serving two, fed a total of 10,000 people. With a team of 100 people working tirelessly from 5 am, the parcels were efficiently packed and ready for transportation to the airport by 8 pm. This remarkable feat was accomplished in addition to the 35,000-40,000 plates that the flagship outlet sells daily in Hyderabad.

5000 packets of Paradise biryani from Hyderabad were transported to Chennai during the floods

In another instance, this flavourful pot of rice proves to be a lifesaver, quite literally, for a man in Kolkata. Facing severe emotional distress due to a recent separation from his wife and financial struggles, he contemplated suicide on a bridge. The Kolkata police successfully averted the tragedy by enticing him with the promise of biryani. The distressed man, who had been taking his daughter to a science gallery, agreed to come down only after the offer of biryani, and possibly a job. In this unique rescue, biryani played a crucial role in diffusing a potentially tragic situation.

Drunk decision making

A Mumbai woman made the 'best decision ever' by drunk-ordering ₹2,500 worth biryani from a Bengaluru restaurant, creating a Twitter buzz. The Zomato team joined in on the fun, anticipating a 'happy hangover,' and the verdict after delivery was a resounding success. 

Drunk or not, ordering biryani is always a good decision. Don't you agree?

Category : Food and Cooking


Written by Madhuwanti Saha

Writer, Journalist , Photographer