Telangana is the poorest part of Andhra Pradesh, but its food is at the top of the spicy hot index, says Rahul Verma
Double ka Meetha
My connection with Telangana is an old one. In the late forties and early fifties, when peasants in the region were battling feudal landlords, my father — who had deserted the British army for political work — trained the peasants in armed guerilla warfare.
Years after his death, I wonder about his life in Telangana. How did he, a Jat from Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh, communicate with the people? What did he eat there?
Some of the questions I may not find answers to, but I now have an idea of what he could have eaten there. And that's mainly thanks to Prem Kumar Pogakula, the executive sous chef at The Imperial New Delhi.
"Since I hail from Telangana, I can vouch that Telangana cuisine is the spiciest of all Indian cuisines because of the liberal use of red hot chillies, making one's palate fiery hot. It also uses tamarind to give the food its sour taste," he says.
Uppidi Pindi Upma
But within Telangana, too, there are differences. Regions such as Warangal and Adilabad serve what can be called basic Telangana food. Nalgonda and Khammam have been influenced by Andhra tastes and flavours. Karnataka's influence can be felt in Rangareddy, Medak and Mahabubnagar.
In northern districts such as Karimnagar, you can spot the influence of Maharashtra — which is why, says Mandaar Sukhtankar, executive chef of The Park Hotel Hyd-erabad, rotis, other breads and cereals are a part of the diet.
The list of popular dishes from the region is enormous. It includes jonna rotte (sorghum), chapala pulusu (fish curry) or chicken pulusu. Uppidi pindi upma is prepared with rava and vegetables, while the fiery pachi pulusu is rasam flavoured with tamarind, chillies and onions.
The ingredients and the names of the dishes, chef Pogakula adds, are almost the same cutting across Telangana, Andhra and Rayalaseema. "It is the quantity of usage that defines each region," he explains.
Chef Sukhtankar points out that for the poor people of Telangana, chillies, which grow in profusion in the region, are the predominant flavour. Because of relative poverty, again, parts of a goat that don't always make it to the high table are eaten with relish. Even now in the villages, chef Pogakula says, you'll find people cooking mutton trotters, intestines, cleaned stomach and clotted blood. Char-grilled head and brain curry are popular as well.
But if basic food is one part of the cuisine, it also boasts of rich Muslim food. Telangana cuisine includes royal Hyderabadi dishes such as biryanis and kababs. The popular desserts of the region are also a legacy of the royals. What could be better than double ka meetha, a sinfully delicious dessert prepared with fried bread and thickened milk?
Now that Telangana is about to become a state, I'd be happy if the food of the region finds a place in other parts of the country. After all, I have family ties with Telangana.
Telangana Chepala Pulusu (serves 8)
• 1kg chepalu (catfish) • 1 tsp mustard seeds • 1 tsp cumin seeds • 2 stalks curry leaves • 2 chopped onions • 1 chopped tomato • 3 slit green chillies • 2 tbs red chilli powder • 1 tsp turmeric • 1 tbs coriander powder • 1/4 tsp fenugreek powder • 3-4 tbs oil • 4 tbs thick tamarind pulp • 2 cups water • salt to taste • 1/4 tsp clove powder • coriander leaves for garnishing
Clean and slice the fish. Heat oil in a big flat vessel. Add mustard and cumin seeds. When they start spluttering, add curry leaves and onions. Fry till the onions become soft. Add tomatoes and green chillies and sauté till the oil separates. Add red chilli, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek and clove powders and salt to taste. Sauté for a minute. Add tamarind pulp and water. Now simmer for 20 minutes. When the sauce reduces, add fish and cook. Finish with coriander leaves.