Transcending the frontiers of religious faith, the dish has evolved into a ‘must-have’ delicacy

As the sun casts its last rays on the sky, distant sounds of prayers from the mosque fill the air. On a cloudy evening, it is business as usual at one of the busiest locations of the city – the Jagadamba Junction.

Just that the lights are brighter and the tiny haleem kiosks that have sprung up here have the familiar enticing flavour that draws hordes of people to it.

The holy month of Ramadan is here, wherein, Muslims observe roza as fast by day and feast by night. But even if you’re not observing the fast, there’s no reason why you should not join the celebrations after sunset with the others as they break their fast.

Heralding in the season, a number of haleem stalls have come up in the city at different localities. And going by their numbers, it has just got better with every passing year. Transcending the frontiers of religious faith, the dish has evolved into a ‘must-have’ delicacy during the month of Ramadan.

Jagadamba Junction, Spencer’s Hyper Market, MVP Colony, Beach Road and Pedda Waltair are a few areas where people throng to get a taste of the famous Hyderabadi haleem. While Vizag took its time to welcome the Arabian dish, finally the wait seems to be over. The demand has increased dramatically over the years.

Essentially a red meat preparation, the origin of haleem is traced in the Persian or the Arab world, which was first a dish that kept seafaring Arab spice traders well fed on their journeys to and forth the southwest coast of Malabar. But like most dishes – with immigration, trade, modern conveniences – communities made it their own, adapting the recipe to their tastes.

It reached Hyderabad with the Arabs, and became popular because of the Nizams. In 2010, Hyderabadi haleem was given the Geographical Indication (GI) status.

Essentially, haleem is a dish that has all the components of a healthy one pot meal - starch, protein and fat, made hearty with the addition of spices!

“The popularity of Hyderabadi haleem has soared in the past three years and the demand has doubled over last year. There was a time when people in Vizag were not even familiar with the word,” says Md. Zahir of Grand Hyderabadi Bawarchi at Suryabagh. His well lit haleem stall on the main road is swarmed by people of all faiths and age-groups. “We sell close to 60 kg of haleem daily and on weekends the number swells further,” he adds.

This is the third year of Zahir’s haleem stall which serves mutton as well as chicken haleem and already has a dedicated customer base. “We get the ingredients from Hyderabad and ensure that the flavour is as authentic as the ones you would find in the lanes of Hyderabad,” he adds. Zahir also supplies to two other haleem counters in the city.

The parcels come in mini, medium, large and family packs.

In its original form, haleem has an elaborate and laborious preparation process. Says Executive Chef Srinath Sambandan of The Park: “It is made with 10 parts of goat meat to four of broken wheat and lentils. This slow cooked delicacy came into its own with the copious use of spices and ghee and other local condiments, reinventing itself from a sweeter Arabic ‘Harees’ with cinnamon and dates to today’s Hyderabadi Haleem with a tangy ‘Khattan’ flavour of the Deccan region and is a delicacy that brooks no short cuts – always slow and steady!”

This year, The Park has introduced ‘Iftaar Specials’ at Vista with a menu that includes the trio of Hyderabad’s most famous Ramzan delicacies – Hyderabadi Gosht ki Haleem, Murgh Dum Biryani and Sheer Korma.

Making the most of the new frenzy, entrepreneurs have invited ‘haleem masters’ from Hyderabad to recreate its true flavour in kiosks. “The right combination of spices gives the true flavour. Some like it a bit spicy with more cinnamon and pepper, some others prefer it to be milder. Only the haleem masters know the real essence behind it,” says Hyderabad-based Imtiaz Quadri who has started the Arabian Shawarma House at MVP Colony. The shawarma joint will shortly have a separate counter for haleem once the ‘haleem master’ arrives here from Hyderabad. Alpha at Jagadamba, famous for its biryanis, is offering the Irani version of mutton haleem.

Sravanthi Gautam, an engineering student, is a regular here at Jagadamba Junction during the Ramadan. “I just love to be here at this time of the year. This place takes on a different form and colour in Ramadan and the rush at the haleem stalls remind me of the fun times at Mumbai’s Mohammed Ali Road,” she says. While the comparison may seem exaggerated, the craze for haleem in the city cannot be overlooked.

Says Sheik Zuber who is the ‘haleem master’ at Dil Se Haleem located outside Mecca Masjid: “We start selling after sunset but the demand is such that we run out of stock by 8 p.m.” Zuber’s temporary kitchen begins operations at midnight, when the mutton is chopped and boiled in spiced water in a cauldron over a wood fire. The final product is ready after only by 4 p.m. the next day.

With mushrooming of take-away counters serving the dish, it may be just a matter of time before those who have not been hit by its fragrance fall for it during this holy month.