The Mughals originated from Central Asia. Long before the British colonizers, Persians, Turks, Arabs, and Afghans governed India. They introduced an exciting element to Indian cooking -- food which must be wholesome, with rich flavor and spices. They also taught Indians to eat in a feast style. Historians believe the word “biryani” derives from the Persian word “biryan,” meaning fried onion. Others say it comes from “biranj” meaning rice. Actually, Persian biryani does not have rice at all, and as a matter of fact looks nothing like Indian biryani. Instead, it is minced meat cooked in spices along with lots of fried onion and served on flatbread.
Under Mughal rule from the 15th to 19th Century, India, and especially the northern city Delhi, became famous for its Mughlai cuisine. The Mughals introduced several techniques, like dum pukht (slow-cooking spiced meat and vegetables in a dough-covered pot over low heat), and rice and meat dishes like Biryani.
Anoothi Vishal, author of the food-focused cultural history, Mrs. LC’s Table, describes biryani as perhaps pulao (rice pilaf) getting an Indian makeover. Mughal cooks loved to experiment with their spices, adding locally-produced ingredients and introducing new techniques. Perhaps this is what the khansamas -- royal chefs -- did after getting the orders from the Queen Mumtaz Mahal.