Bored with Biryani

Seventeenth century Dutch traveler, Frans Jansz van der Heiden, describes Biryani, a rice and meat dish in South Asia, in his travel account, as follows:

“…..We were brought int a beautiful hall [and] there we were served a very rich dish, biryani. The guards told us that it was never prepared better for kings and princes than for us at that time. The prince of Bhulua probably ordered his people to do so because he privileges whoever is known to be Christian over his own people.

We were given this rich dish and as a result we quickly regained our flesh. But gradually the heaviness began to bother us and we longed for lighter fare that we could digest more easily. Biryani is very oily and filling. It is prepared, without water, from fine white rice, a whole goose or two chickens, and many cloves, mace, fine white sugar, cinnamon or cassia leaves, saffron, and many other spices. All these are braised together in butter, and in this way the goose and the chickens are cooked in the rice till they are well done. This dish was so filling that ultimately it began to upset us; in the end we would have been happier eating just dry rice with salted fish.”

from the Bangladesh Reader, edited by Meghan Guhathakurta and Willem van Schendel

The seventeenth century description of a dish still enjoyed today is fascinating. It also makes me wonder when does something life saving and tasty turn into something heavy and sickening?


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