A bite of Turkey (the country not the bird), a dash from the land of Arabs, a piece from our very own history called Mughals and some sprinkles of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to garnish the perfect Hyderabadi meal. Ok try it this way. Start with kebabs and make sure you have biryani for the main course; that my friends, is the Turkish influence. Haleem, a Hyderabadi favourite, is a traditional Arabic preparation. The Mughals, apart from introducing their traditional preparations also, messed with the more native ones in their royal kitchens. But then, we aren’t complaining. As for the garnish, Hyderabadi fare uses a fair amount of herbs and spices borrowed from Andhra and Marathwada cuisine. So there you have it, a multi-cuisine city!
1. Hyderabadi Biryani
The origin of the classic Hyderabadi biryani lies in the Mughal courts, where they refined the dish that has its roots in Persia (P.S. - Turkey was part of the Persian empire once upon a time). The not-so-popular Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb added biryani to the Hyderabadi menu. Finally something we can praise him for. For those of you struggling with the perennial question – what makes Hyderabadi biryani different? The answer lies in the preparation method. A raw meat and spices mixture is topped with layers of raw rice and allowed to cook on slow flame. When the rice is partially cooked it is covered and sealed with dough allowing it to cook in its own dum or steam. This kind of preparation is also known as kachchi gosht ki biryani or dum biryani.
2. Hyderabadi Haleem
Haleem was introduced by the Arabs in Hyderabad during the Mughal Era and eventually popularized by an Arab chief, who was a crucial part of the Nizami court. Now that we are done with the history lesson, what exactly is haleem? It’s a thick mixture of meat, wheat, lentils (almost any and every kind), garnished with fried onions and a dash of lime juice, and topped with cashew nuts. There is an Indian version of haleem known as khichda and there is a small difference between the two (actually the only one that we could make out). In haleem the cooked meat is shredded and cooked almost allowing it to dissolve into the mixture while khichda has chunks of meat. It takes 7 to 8 hours to cook haleem, so those of you finicky about eating lunch for dinner should just steer clear. This is a good meal for gym rats since its high on protein. However, the tiny tummies be warned, this is a meal by itself.
3. Hyderabadi Nihari/Paaya Nahari
The word Nihar originated from the Arabic word "Nahar" which means "day" or the light between sunrise (Fajr) and sunset. This dish was usually eaten in the early morning before a day of manual labour. The Hyderabadi version of the Nihari (a popular meat dish of South Asia) contains lamb bones and tongue. What makes the dish so delicious is the tender meat which is a result of cooking the dish overnight in the vessels or sometimes, keeping it buried underground. Also it is a traditional home remedy for several minor illnesses. So feel free to indulge if you have a cold, a runny nose or a high temperature.
4. Pathar ka gosht
Pathar ka gosht or marinated meat cubes cooked on hot, preferably unpolished, granite stone was a favourite in the royal kitchens and continues to hold place of pride on the common Hyderabadi man’s table. The meat cutlets are marinated with a paste of ginger, garlic, green chillies, a pinch of salt and most importantly, a teaspoon of cassia buds (unopened flowers of the cinnamon tree). The ‘pathar’ (hot granite stone) on which these marinated meat cubes are cooked, release several minerals that mix with the spices on the meat, giving it a special flavor. Right, we might have to throw down the ‘so-called work trip to Hyderabad’ card for a bite of this.
The kebabs of Hyderabad need a special mention. Though the Kebab is a distinct part of Persian cuisine, as its refinement occurred in India (primarily Lucknow and Hyderabad), it is considered a well-established Indian culinary delight. In Hyderabad, the Mughal love for meat was blended with the fiery spices of Andhra Pradesh to create variations that we all continue to crave for. And guess what? It is also said to contain over a hundred aromatic and digestive spices that were supposed to ensure one's continued health and well being. Just what the local hakim must have recommended!
Some recommended eateries where you can find these palatable dishes: Bawarchi Restaurant, Café Bahar, Hotel Shadab, Paradise Food Court, Hyderabad House, Hotel Madina, Hotel Nayaab, Alpha, Pista House, Irani Chai, Waterfront Restaurant, The Great Kabab Factory, Kebab E Bahar
While we’re sure our meat loving burrpers will be checking airline fares, our vegetarian readers shouldn’t feel disheartened. We have a list of all the vegetarian delicacies from the Hyderabadi kitchens you must try. So stay tuned for our next update!