The debate is settled. Move aside Lucknow, Awadh, Kolkata and all the others who claimed their biryani is the best. The world has accepted Hyderabad.
And it is not just the biryani. Hyderabad’s entire culinary culture is now all set to go global with the City of Nawabs being selected among the prestigious UNESCO Network of Creative Cities. Which category? Gastronomy, obviously!
It is now time to celebrate with renewed vigour and hunger, the city’s ‘biryani’, the ‘mirchi ka salaan’, the ‘shikampur kebabs’, the ‘bagara baingan’ and of course, the nihari paya.
The city has for long been known for its variety of cuisines, those prepared both in hotels and homes. Topping the chart is the ‘gosht ki biryani’ and the ‘dum ka murgh’. Available in different variants, the biryani is the most popular and is relished everywhere, whether it is in a crowded restaurant in a corner of a narrow street in the old city, or in the air-conditioned dining sections of five-star hotels.
Restaurants synonymous with the Hyderabadi signature ‘Dum ki Biryani’, and who have become popular with their own versions of the same include Shadab, Paradise, Sarvi and Shah Ghouse, while Madina, Fiza, Choice, Bahar and Bawarchi too are right on top of the popularity chart. Then there are also several local chefs like Chote Pashu Ustad and Bade Pashu Ustad who have taken the biryani across the globe.
Sohail Khan, of Hyderabadi Biryani Handi, a catering service, says, the method of cooking the biryani sets apart the Hyderabad biryani along with its varieties like the ‘zafrani biryani’ from the rest.
“After the advent of internet and social media platforms, biryani has reached across the world and Hyderabadi biryani is much acclaimed now. Foreign delegates at various get-togethers want to taste it and enquire about it,” he says.
Apart from biryani, in the list of much sought after dishes from Hyderabad are ‘mirchi ka salan’ and ‘bagara baingan’. Equally in demand are the varieties of the ‘korma’.
Samyra Ruheen, a culinary expert says, ‘korma’ is prepared in two non-veg varieties – chicken and mutton, while the vegetarian one is made with potatoes or any other vegetable.
“‘Potli ka masala’, a mix of nearly 25 herbs and spices is the essence of the korma. Herbs and spices like sandalwood, pepper, rose petals, and roots of the betel plant are dried for days and later packed in muslin cloth. The bundle is left in the utensil when the cuisine is prepared,” she explains. It is used mostly in Hyderabad and those familiar with its essentiality across the world too are now using it, she adds.
Hakeem Syed Mateen, a unani practioner says the ‘potli ka masala’ contains certain herbs and spices which are good for health. It is also used in making the ‘nihari paya’ and adds fragrance to the recipe.
‘Nihari paya’ is a soup prepared with lamb shanks. Usually sold in the mornings or late evenings at restaurants – since preparing it is a lengthy process, women avoid making at homes – the recipe is savoured along with leavened bread popular as ‘naan’ here. Of late, the age old recipe is being given new touches as ‘malai paya’ and ‘paya curry’ served to guests at functions.
The city also offers the kheema (minced meat) on the morning menu mostly in hotels or at homes and also prepared on Sundays at homes when families regularly sit together for breakfast along with accompaniments like the crunchy ‘paapad’ or the spicy Hyderabadi achar, again a celebrity in its own right.
Fridays are a special day when it comes to the city. Hotels prepare the ‘bagara khana’ and offer it along with ‘kaddu ka dalcha’. At homes, usually rice and dal are cooked with accompaniments like ‘talava gosht’, ‘hare masale ka gosht’ and fried kebabs.
With the changing scenario, many new recipes have come into picture and are widely available at eateries and hotels. Be it the ‘pathar ke gosht’, ‘margh’ (soup), ‘shawarma’, ‘Kalyani Biryani’ and of course Chinese noodles and other dishes.
Historian Mohammed Safiullah says Hyderabadi cuisine is a mix of Mughal cuisine.
“The dishes have been prepared for years, without losing popularity and that is why Hyderabadi cuisine stands out in the world. Chefs have been making the same dishes for their entire lives and have mastered it. Same is the case with women in families,” he points out.
CITY OF COOKIES
Fine Biscuit, Dilkush, Dil Pasand, Osmania Biscuit, Dum Ke Roat, Nankhatai, the list is unending.
Hyderabad food is not just about the biryani, kebabs or ‘nihari paya’. Quick bites or just cookies prepared in the city have a huge fan following even beyond Indian shores.
Top on chart is the Osmania Biscuit with its own royal legacy. Named after the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the name itself brings to the mind the aroma of freshly baked cookies wafting through the air, often prompting passers-by into the bakeries to buy them. Such is its lure.
According to historian Mohammed Safiullah, the Nizam liked the biscuits made at Vicaji Hotel, a popular restaurant at Abids, and regularly had it. The hotel later named the biscuit Osmania. The hotel is believed to have worked out the biscuit’s taste to the Nizam’s liking by reducing the salt content and making it slightly sugary.
Other among the Dakhani quick bites, much before puffs, burgers and pizza made their debut, are Dil Khush, the sugar coated Fine Biscuit, Dil Pasand and Nankhatai.
The Dum Ke Roat, the crispy biscuit filled with dry fruits and pure ghee, is seasonal. Syed Irfan of Subhan Bakery says the Dum Ke Roat has come into demand in the last one decade. “Previously the practice was to make it at home and get it baked in bakeries. Now people prefer to buy the bakery made,” he said.
TASTIER DAYS AHEAD
The Creative City tag has the local food industry now hoping for better days ahead.
There are over 2,200 registered restaurants in the city and GHMC officials state that around 1,000 tons of meat is consumed every day in the city.
Mohammed Saleem, president, Twin Cities Hotel Owners Association, said they expect more business in the coming days and of course would expect the government to support them more. Indirectly, the food industry supports close to one lakh families.
The hotel association will be trying to convince the government to extend the timing of its operations. Now, the hotels shut down by midnight.
At tourist spots like Charminar, several roadside eateries come up after midnight and cater to the visitors who are now keen to visit the monument in the dead of the night to enjoy the serene atmosphere.
LIFE IS SWEET
For those with a sweet tooth, Hyderabad can be heaven.
Right from Shahi Tukda, Kaddu Ki Kheer and Qubani Ka Meetha to dry savories like Jauzi Halwa, Badam Ki Jali, Kaju Ki Jali and Khoya Barfi, the city restaurants and confectionaries offer everything.
If Sheer Khurma makes its presence felt only during Eid ul Fitr, the other sweet dishes are sold at restaurants or prepared on orders and supplied. At houses, occasion or no occasion, sweets are an integral part at least alongside the Sunday lunch.
Of late, eateries that offer only sweets have come up in the city.
ALL ABOUT LUKHMI
The ubiquitous ‘lukhmi’, a snack stuffed with minced meat is now rarely seen at hotels or weddings. Once a much sought after starter at weddings and other functions, the lukhmi has now given way to kebabs, fried fish and varieties of chicken dishes.
Lukhmi was a part of menu at many restaurants until a decade ago. Affordable as an evening snack eaten along with kebab or even without accompaniments, it had its own following. Now only a few restaurants in the city are preparing lukhmi and offering it to their customers.
Mohd Irfan of Shah Ghouse hotel said earlier it was prepared at almost all restaurants but gradually the minced meat gave way to potato stuffing.
“It is because people were not accepting it due to its pricing. Meat as you know is costly so we have to price the snack accordingly,” he said.