“Well, the biryani at Shanti Bhavan is really nice. But it’s not as tasty as the biryanis we have at our village,” Monisha said with a sheepish grin. She then went on to explain how, in her village, the custom was to put loads of spices in the biryani.

“Our biryani is prepared very differently. After preparing the rice and the chicken together, we garnish it with scrambled eggs and kebab. And we use a lot of spices. It’s just yummy!”

We all have certain objects that trigger fond memories from back home. For Monisha, it’s the biryani she gets when she goes home. Every time Shanti Bhavan serves biryani, it reminds her of her family and her village community. 

An official survey of biryanis has not been conducted in India so far, but if you are to do one, you are likely to find hundreds of varieties. Every locality has its own ways of creatively preparing the popular dish, relying a lot on spices and ingredients that are locally available and using culinary techniques that are understood well by the people there. The biryani in Monisha’s village has its own flavor thanks to its abundance of spices. But what makes it special is the camaraderie between the villagers in the biryani-making process that Monisha fondly cherishes.

Monisha recalls how festivals like Diwali, Pongal, and Dussehra used to be celebrated in her village. Her cousins would bring home a chocolate cake, her aunt would make sweets, her grandfather used to buy more sweets from the market, and then there would, of course, be the biryani.

“We are a small village with four families. Whenever there’s an occasion, everyone comes together to help each other – they become the guest and the host. And a lot of times, when we don’t have enough spices at home to make biryani, our neighbors wholeheartedly give what they have so that our plan is not hindered.”

The warmth and energy you feel when you are with loved ones is special. The biryani days at Shanti Bhavan teleport Monisha back to her village, and she savors those moments. The little dish helps her feel grateful and blessed for the lovely family she has at both Shanti Bhavan and home. What might a biryani do for you?!