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Hyderabadi Cuisine

It is said that Nizam-ul-Mulk, first Governor and then independent ruler of Hyderabad, visited a pir shortly after breaking free from the Mughal court. The holy man, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aurangabadi, offered his guest a plate of kulchas, of which Nizam-ul-Mulk ate seven. The pir then prophesised that the new ruler of Hyderabad would have a dynasty that lasted seven generations, and ever since, the Nizams’ official flag carried an image of a kulcha.

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Nehari

Arguably the most famous component of Hyderabadi food – and a prime example of the city’s free mix of influences – is the biryani. The city’s kacchi biryani comes in up to forty varieties and is often hailed as the ultimate experience in the genre. Hyderabad’s haleem is also famous. An integral part of the Iftar meal – which breaks the fast during Ramzan – haleem is a thick gravy of pounded meat, lentils and wheat, cooked for hours on low heat.

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Baghare baingan

Hyderabadi cuisine is distinguished by its use of spices, which can range from sandalwood powder to dried rose petals, and are often infused into a particular dish through a muslin cloth. Other dishes are flavoured with more sour tastes, derived from local Telengana cuisine. Tamarind, lemon, raw mango, starfruit and other souring ingredients are not only turned into pickles, but also used in preparations like baghare baingan and achar gosht.

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Avakkai pickle

Indeed, Telangana cuisine in the city is eminently worth exploring. Its spicy-sour repertoire includes the fiery pachi pulusu (a rasam flavoured with tamarind, chilli and onions), telangana kodi vedupu (chicken cooked with tomatoes and onions) and gongura masam (mutton or lamb cooked in Gongura leaves), accompanied with rice and jonna (or jowar: millet) rotis. The sour gongura leaves, in fact, are the most well-known facet of Telengana cuisine, and are most commonly found pickled.

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Khubani ka Meetha

The meal is rounded off with the rich khubani ka meetha (mashed dried apricots and cream), the more modern double ka meetha (a kind of bread pudding), sheer khorma (a vermicelli pudding) or, on really special occasions, nimish – a divine preparation of milk foam gathered into clay cups. However Hyderabadi sweet dishes have much in common with their north Indian counterparts and it is not unusual to find savouries like kulfi and faluda in abundance.

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Double ka Meetha

A century ago, such a spread would have ended with a redoubtable elder seated by his ‘hubblebubble’, or being lulled to sleep by a professional storyteller; today, it may or may not evoke such remembrances, but, nevertheless, it still gives immense satisfaction.

Biryani

‘Some are delicate in taste, some intoxicatingly aromatic, some are flavoured with saffron, some with cream and milk and some others with rose water or screw pine flower water’ (Pratibha Karan). Indeed, ‘food critics argue that Hyderabad’s is the only true biryani. The biryanis of Lucknow, they say, are no more than pulaos, combinations of rice and meat cooked separately. In the Hyderabadi biryani on the other hand, raw rice and raw meat are cooked together. A counterargument is that biryani derives from the Farsi for ‘fried’, so in fact the pakki biryani in which the meat is fried separately from the rice may be more ‘authentic’. At any rate, so popular are Hyderabadi biryanis that most well-established restaurants in the city are prepared to vacuum-pack the dish which is taken by expatriate Mulkis to various parts of the country and the globe. However, if one goes by Pratibha Karan’s collection of Hyderabadi recipes, A Princely Legacy, the best biryanis are cooked in private kitchens, not restaurants. A test for a wellcooked biryani? Throw a small amount of rice on the floor – if the grains fall separately, the biryani is well-made.

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For more on the city, pick up Goodearth Publications: Hyderabad City Guide ISBN 9789380262031

(Available at all leading outlets and online stores)

Buylink: http://www.flipkart.com/hyderabad-city-guide-9380262035/p/itmdf89fustqvewq?pid=9789380262031&ref=c488b00d-c6b0-4309-8c23-3cec013095d8

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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A spoonful of heaven

As our train chugged out of New Delhi Railway Station, lots of thoughts were dashing through our brains (Tanya’s and mine). I had a feeling I knew what Tanya was thinking, revisiting her home of younger, happy days. I didn’t want to confess that my own thoughts were rather more banal. Only if you consider biryani banal that is. And if you do, nothing could be further from the truth.

Biryani in Hyderabad has almost a religious following. While Paradise is arguably the biggest name associated with it, we made a few surprise discoveries like Shadab which were worth many repeat visits. A crash course in the history of Hyderabadi cooking by the Head Chef at Kakatiya also helped us appreciate the telengana or sour element in the biryani so that we devoured it a little more sensitively (though not really less ravenously).

Nidhi at (in?) Paradise

Nidhi at (in?) Paradise

One of the brilliant creations pioneered by ITC is the low-fat, high-fibre raagi muffin. We polished off about five each to stave the fire in our palates after eating a crazy hot telengana chilli stew. Among the other hits were small fried banana dosas and chicken cooked in spinach. We learnt that not every food had to be from Hyderabad for a Hyderabadi to adopt it and feed it lovingly to visitors.

A Hyderabadi about to feed

A Hyderabadi about to feed

Of course, the best was always reserved for the last. The sinful desserts, with enigmatic names like khobani-ka-meetha and double-ka-meetha had us exclaiming and swooning so much that regular restaurant-goers in the city should have found us more than a tad weird. The thing about Hyderabadis is that they seldom glare, giving you ample space to do your own thing and do it with aplomb.

Street food in Hyderabad was another fabulous discovery. Having trudged all over Old City, photographed its monuments, people and shops, we decided to sit quietly and soak in the chaos, and how better to do that than with mirchi bajji (chilli fritters) washed down with vast quantities of fruit juice.

In Hyderabad, you can never have enough juice.

Fruit juicewalla near Charminar

Fruit juicewalla near Charminar

After an evening of squash at Secunderabad Club or a busy day selling handkerchiefs outside Mecca Masjid, fruit juice is the way to go.

Of course, there is the other camp which feel a glass of juice can never match up to the joys of the teeth-numbingly sweet irani chai, with so much sugar that the spoon stands stiff in the cup. But let me not get into politics here, i belong to a third camp really, the falooda fan club. With its neon pink and green, i was in love with falooda even before i tasted it.

On the last day, even as Nidhi was having Shadab biryani packed for Bodhi (who had threatened her with dire consequences lest she didnt), we made a final meal-stop for what is called genuinely southern fare. Of course, the choice was not incidental. We needed something that could be made, fed and paid for in the same amount of time as the biryani was prepared. But Anand Bhavan (in Patthargatti) surprised us with their vada and rava dosa, served  paper-crisp and scrumptious, and mopped off just as quickly as it was served.

As we settled for the journey back, i knew two things: 1) Hyderabadi food is fabulous and 2) i’ll still be thinking of biryani on subsequent visits to the city.

If you’re from Hyderabad or have visited it and made interesting finds, do drop us a line. We’d love to put it in the Hyderabad Travel Guide, coming soon!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2009 in goodearth guides, travel

 

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The Return to Hyderabad

A work trip to Hyderabad! This was special in more ways than one – not only was it going to be my first work trip, but Hyderabad was where I spent all my childhood and is a second home. To make it all the more exciting, FOUR of us were going: the boss Swati Mitra, Nidhi Dhingra, Anupriya Roy, and yours truly.

It was a tricky proposition. Since we were going to photograph and research for our Hyderabad City Guide, I’d have to see Hyderabad in a new light – as a potential travel destination. When you’ve grown up in a city, you regard the most exotic tourist attractions with a sense familiarity and affection. We would trek up Naubat Pahad from school to Birla Mandir, drive past Hussain Sagar, Tank Bund and Osmania University every day to get home and past Public Gardens to go for swimming. Now I was back with camera and note book in hand and a whole lot of newly-learnt history and interesting anecdotes to revisit it all.

Anupriya, Nidhi, Tanya. Fully armed with cameras, notebook and pencil.

Anupriya, Nidhi, Tanya in Bala Hissar, Golconda Fort. Fully armed with cameras, notebook and pencil.

Even after numerous school trips to the Golconda Fort and the Qutb Shahi Tombs, it was only in my GK II office in Delhi and while poring over dusty volumes in libraries that I grasped its significance in history. The mighty Qutb Shahi dynasty, whose founder broke himself away from the Bahamani kingdom, ruled from the ingeniously protected Golconda fort from 1518 to 1589. Every time a king died, his body would be carried from the Fort, through the Murda Gate, to the Qutb Shahi Tombs where he would be buried in a splendid tomb.

Golconda Fort: a view of the royal complex

Golconda Fort: a view of the royal complex

A little boy poses against Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah's tomb

A little boy poses against Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah's tomb

Our guide took us through the fort bringing it alive for us. We even encountered a film being shot, quite a common sight in the movie crazy Hyderabad.

Lights... Camera... Action!

Lights... Camera... Action!

When we visited the Qutb Shahi Tombs from school, they were always a source of great delight. Always hoping to find the skeletal remains of the royal ones, I was more or less impervious to their architectural beauty. This time, I was wonderstruck at the sheer scale and symmetry of the tombs. Since it was afternoon and there were few visitors, it was a surreal experience – surrounded on all sides by tombs and mosques, it was the 16th century once again.

the tombs in the landscaped garden

the tombs in the landscaped garden

This trip to Hyderabad included my most memorable sojourns into the old city. One thing I brought back with me from those ancient streets, apart from a strong desire to go back, was bottles of fragrant attar. Who would have thought! Attar, which I always associated with grown ups and the old-fashioned, had Anupriya and me in its spell. We swooned with every tantalising fragrance that was dabbed on our wrists: Sanobar, Fankaar, Gulab, Omar Khayam, Shaheen….

An attar advertisement - Attar comes in these colourful little illustrated boxes

An attar advertisement - Attar comes in these colourful little illustrated boxes

Mr Shailendra Prasad of Hyderabad Perfumers lamented how the interest in attar made of natural ingredients was waning and that most of the affordable attar today was synthetic.  He did add there were still some connoisseurs of attar who came all the way from the Arab countries to buy it.

'Would you prefer something more fruity? more feminine? ...' - Mr Shailendra Prasad and his wares

'Would you prefer something more fruity? more feminine? ...' - Mr Shailendra Prasad and his wares

There were places I’d never visited like the Chowmahalla Palace Complex, and some real gems, which I am ashamed to say, I’d never even heard about and which you will have to wait for the Goodearth Hyderabad City Guide to find out about!

If you make your visit to Hyderabad before the book is out (a few more months of travelling, photography, research in libraries are still required), then you can try these:

A P Tourism (Phone: 011-23381293, 23366328) and INTACH Hyderabad for an exhaustive list of protected structures (Phone: 040-23730885).

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2009 in goodearth guides, travel

 

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