“I don’t like biryani,” declared my co-passenger on Falaknuma Express, with a clinical nonchalance. I was at my wit’s end. What on earth does he mean? Here was I, on my way to Hyderabad only to get a taste of the biryani they have turned into a brand name, and this gentleman says he doesn’t like it! “What do you like then?” I blurted out, sounding a bit sarcastic to say the least. “You know what,” said the man with an unmistakable tone of authority, “you are lucky to be visiting the city during Ramazan. I would suggest you go and have the Halim there. It’s my favourite.”
Now there, that’s enough for me to conclude taste buds and their loyalties could be as varied as the culture of India. I have had Halim in my own city and honestly, I didn’t find it too good to resist. So making a journey from Calcutta to Hyderabad just to have some dal with a few pieces of mutton thrown in is a waste, I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong... and right at the same time!
Ironically, the first thing to catch my eye in Hyderabad were posters and banners with pictures of Halim and their makers: Aakif ka Halim, Maajid ka Halim, Faizal ka Halim and so forth. “Well, I don’t mind trying it. But let me have the biryani first,” I told myself. Thus began my culinary journey in the famed city of Nizams.
Biryani and some
Okay. I pass my verdict. Hyderabadi biryani is good. But Calcutta biryani is better. And Lucknowi biryani is the best. I know I am incurring the wrath of the many who swear by their little-tangy-way-too-spicy Nizami biryani. You can say I am biased. Having grown up in Calcutta and feasted on the aloo-meat-chawal dum pukht biryani for more than two decades now, the Hyderabadi variety was a pleasant departure. I had it at Bawarchi, Shadab’s, Paradise, Shah Ghouse and the many hole-in-the-wall eateries near Charminar. I dug in, I struggled, I enjoyed and I missed my biryani back home. Period.
I have never been a fan of chicken. Not until I had the Afghan Chicken at Bawarchi Restaurant near RTC X Roads in Old Hyderabad. I always thought that chicken doesn’t have its own taste. I was right. And then proved wrong. Coupled with a jumbo biryani platter, the Afghan Chicken seemed godsent.
If breakfast is something you take seriously on your day’s menu, you must have the Chutneys experience. Known for its eight varieties of chutneys that go with a range of Andhra and south-Indian delicacies, Chutneys has several branches across the city. I had mine at the Banjara Hills outlet, starting with the Guntur Idli served with a dash of gunpowder (an eclectic mix of spices), steamed dosa with jaggery, green mango uttapam and calling it a day with the famous Khubani ka Meetha. An awesome breakfast binge for a nightbird like me!
Khubani ka Meetha
Khubani or qubani is Urdu for apricot. The dish is a dessert made by boiling apricot in a syrup until it reaches a desired yummy consistency and then served with grated almonds as toppings. It is too sweet and too good to share. This is a Hyderabad speciality and you will get it at any good restaurant in the city.
Telangana on a platter
I was stuck at my friend’s place in Ameerpet as it was raining cats and dogs for more than three hours. We had planned our lunch at Shadab’s near Charminar but then it seemed too ambitious a plan for a pouring afternoon. Instead, we went to Rayalaseema Ruchulu for an Andhra experience.
Spicy is an understatement for Andhra cuisine. The state is one of the leading producers of red chilli in India and the cuisine sincerely reflects its loyalty to the fiery phenomenon.
The lunch at Rayalaseema Ruchulu (picture right) consisted of Jonna Rotte (flatbread made of jowar), five types of dal (including sambar and rasam), three vegetable curries, Ragi Sangati (made with ragi or finger millet flour and steamed rice, this soft ball of dough is usually eaten with sambar and curries, instead of rice or roti) accompanied by an eggplant fry, mutton gravy and roasted meat of Kamju, a local variety of Japanese quail.
l these I had with a runny nose, thanks to the spices. I sipped and gulped through two tumblers of buttermilk to soothe my burning palate.
Did I like it? Oh, don’t ask me. I am already planning a second trip to Andhra just to have some more Telangana food.
Eating at an Andhra restaurant needs familiarity with the local vocabulary. Thanks to a very caring and approachable waiting staff, I learnt that vepudu means dry fry, iguru is semi-gravy and koora or pulusu means curry. Guddu is egg, kodi is chicken and mamsam means mutton. Royyalu means prawn, chapala or bommidayala is fish for you.
Telangana is primarily a dry area where rice cultivation does not promise profit. Hence, cereals such as jowar, bajra and ragi feature more in the cuisine of this region. The city of Hyderabad, though in the Telangana region, developed its own cuisine culture, thanks to the Muslim rule bringing in Afghan influences. And I thought Hyderabad was all about biryani! Ignorance, in no way, can be bliss. I learnt it the spicy way.
I had promised myself at least a spoonful of Halim before I leave Hyderabad. Some suggested Pista House. The rest were Shah Ghouse loyalists. I tried both. I was blown. After having the Pista House Halim, I refuse to call its Calcutta cousin (I doubt their family lineage) Halim.
You have to have it to understand it. It can’t be described. It shouldn’t be. I must say that the best thing I chanced upon in Hyderabad is its Halim. It is an out-of-the-world experience. That a combination of meat and pulses can taste so good, I would have never believed had I not tasted this delicacy. A semi-solid mass of smashed keema blended with a variety of dal and spices, it wins hands down. I rest my case.
Which is your favourite biryani — Calcutta, Hyderabadi or Lucknowi? Tell email@example.com