COVER | Food

How Hyderabad’s culinary calling card has changed over the years

Hyderabadi biryani is one of India's most famous biryanis

Hyderabadi biryani is one of India's most famous biryanis   | Photo Credit: Nagara Gopal


It’s no longer elaborate food that is Hyderabad’s culinary calling card — there’s everything from omelette kiosks to new-age patisseries

It is 5 a.m., and Hyderabad’s Moazzam Jahi Market is alive with the sizzle and steam from a long, flat tawa and the clanging of skilfully wielded spatulas. A few dozen young men and women wait and watch as batches of dosas take shape. Not the round dosas we are used to but oval ones, topped with oodles of shredded cheese, butter, paneer and tomato. Between the dosa and the topping is sandwiched a layer of runny upma. The process of creating this fusion dosa at Ram Ki Bandi is dramatic — the cheese bubbles and turns red as it is sprinkled generously with chilli garlic powder or chat masala. For the young people wearing the lanyards of IT companies and grumbling about bosses, this dosa, sliced into two and topped with a dollop of peanut chutney, is what they eat before they call it a day.

Hyderabad, known for its biryani, haleem, kebabs, sheer korma, sheermal and shorba, has suddenly seen an explosion in its range of food, making it quite a gourmand’s destination. Little wonder then that the city now has been included in the Creative Cities Network by Unesco in the gastronomy category. And all that eating is helping the economy too: a study by an auditing firm discovered that about 12% of Hyderabad’s working population is directly or indirectly employed in the food sector.

Dosa with toppings

Dosa with toppings   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The average Hyderabadi is quite the foodie: the city consumes some 700 tonnes of chicken and 291 tonnes of meat every day, according to a dossier prepared by city officials. “On festivals, chicken consumption goes up to 2,000 tonnes,” says Musharraf Ali Faruqui, zonal commissioner, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, who was part of the team that drafted the case for Hyderabad’s inclusion in the Unesco’s Creative Cities Network. The team mapped eateries ranging from pushcarts under expressways to tea shops that pop up for a few hours a day to omelette kiosks near bus and train stations. “We found roughly 1.5 lakh establishments, plus countless tea stalls. Some of them stick around for just a few hours before moving on,” he says. The team also discovered that 10,000 women in self-help groups are employed in the food sector in Hyderabad.

On the menu

Diners are spoilt for choice. From experimental dishes that come from small new-age eateries to the established players dishing out success formulas, the range is huge.

Arrayed on both sides of the Musi River, the choices for breakfast at The Grand, Nayaab, Shadab, Shah Ghouse and more are staggering. The meat dishes include bhaji gurda (kidney curry), kaleji (liver curry), jabaan (tongue), paya (broth with trotters), and keema (mince), while vegetarians make do with bagara (seasoned rice), kuska (plain biryani), and khichdi. Shorba is a rich broth with a floating layer of lard, seasoned with coriander and served with sheermal, naan or roti. At Nayaab, it is newspaper executives and early morning visitors to Charminar who stop by for tea and breakfast.

By 8 a.m., the traffic picks up and business at Ram Ki Bandi winds down. “We close by 9 a.m.,” says Ram, a first-generation food entrepreneur. A few hundred metres away, groups of students, daily wage workers and office goers throng the road near Hanuman Tekdi. “People were getting bored of the routine idli-dosa-upma, so I created cut dosa — I made the dosa crisper, added a topping of upma, and cut it into two. Others got the idea from us,” says B. Komariah, the owner of the eatery. Starting with a roadside stall in 1982, he now employs 45 people. “I was 24 and jobless when a Tamil rickshaw puller named Kumar suggested I start a tiffin centre. We borrowed ₹1,200 and ferried the grinding machine here in his rickshaw. He taught us about the batter and other cooking secrets,” says Komariah, as people jostle to buy the tokens for a plate.

Piping hot mirch bajji

Piping hot mirch bajji   | Photo Credit: Nagara Gopal

Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., the streets near schools and colleges, banks and small businesses become hubs for fast food. “My favourite breakfast is keema roti. But now most restaurants in the old city serve puri-bhaji. It is cheaper and also filling; people can no longer afford meat for breakfast,” says Hyder Razvi, who lives near the Darul Shifa, the oldest part of Hyderabad. A traditional snack like lukmi, which earlier had a filling of mince mutton, is now stuffed with either mashed potato or beef.

Of kulfi paans

Sunil opened Shree Lakshmi Tiffins in Boggalkunta near Abids in central Hyderabad four months ago. The shop shares space with one of the city’s fanciest pan shops, which has evolved into a juice parlour and a chaat and pani puri hangout. Mayur Pan House opened in 1998 and boasts on its menu kulfi paan, Meenakshi laddoo paan, and chocolate paan, among other choices. By evening, the area in front of the shop is transformed into a street cafe where families drop by to dig into Jain pav bhaji, samosa ragda, avocado juice, garlic bread, or that eternal street food favourite, pani puri.

By afternoon, biryani preparations for dinner have begun. At the Shah Ghouse Cafe in west Hyderabad, biryani looks like a work of art in the making. “Hyderabadi biryani is kacche gosht ki biryani, where raw meat is cooked with rice creating many layers of flavours,” says Muhammad Rabbani, the owner of Shah Ghouse. On large kadais, chef Chand Bhai uses his eyes and hands as measuring tools, throwing in sea salt, chilli powder, spices, and curd on the meat, then leaving it to marinate. He then layers the marinated meat with half-cooked rice before setting it to cook on dum. Three layers of long-grained rice cooked for different lengths of time appear to be the secret for the perfectly cooked biryani. One kadai of biryani can feed 40 people.

Vermicelli being prepared

Vermicelli being prepared   | Photo Credit: G RAMAKRISHNA

“Food should always be eaten in the place where it is cooked. You can order food online but it arrives cold. A takeaway doesn’t give you the atmosphere of a restaurant,” says Rabbani. He goes to sleep at 4 a.m., when everyone else wakes up to food.

But it is not just elaborate food that is Hyderabad’s culinary calling card today. A small family-run confectionery near Salar Jung Museum makes a little sweetmeat called badam ki jaali (almond coin). Shaped like a Nizam-era coin, the mellow sweet is an heirloom delicacy.

Nouvelle cuisine

At the other end of the spectrum are the new-age patisseries with owner-chefs trained in Paris or London. Hossein Barazandeh studied baking in Paris and opened a desserts place in Banjara Hills called Feranoz. Beginning with a small bakery, Sahil Taneja went on to Concu, a high-end patisserie, also in Banjara Hills. He imports the choicest strawberries and the best gold leaf for dessert toppings. Recently, he opened another restaurant in Jubilee Hills called Farine. His neighbours are Churrolto (Spanish cafe), Guilt Trip (dessert house), Maguro (Pan-Asian diner) and a drive-in restaurant called Cuba. Gourmet city? For sure.

The gastronomy reaches a crescendo during Ramzan. A 1 km radius around Charminar transforms into a food street where the action begins at 5 p.m. and goes on till dawn. It is a night bazaar where mutton shikhampur, a pan-fried minced kebab stuffed with raw onions and coriander, competes with patthar ka gosht, chunks of delicately flavoured meat grilled over heated stone. The dish of choice is, of course, the sublime Hyderabad haleem — a thick, dark spicy stew of meat, lentils, crushed wheat, vegetables and ghee. Lots of ghee. The dish, understandably, has a GI tag.

“Except Punjab and Kashmir, you will find workers from all States working here. Their number goes up during Ramzan when we employ 800 men,” says Ameer, who manages a popular city restaurant. One of the bigger haleem makers, Pista House, has even created a network to door-deliver haleem every day at Iftar across multiple cities.

Importantly, the Unesco Creative Cities Network’s gourmet tag is as much about food as it is about pulling people out of poverty and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As the food business booms, it has created lakhs of jobs in Hyderabad — for bouncers, bakers, baristas, chefs, delivery executives, cooks, scullions, maitres d’hotel, and even rat catchers. At a cloud kitchen in Nanakramguda, one of the specialised jobs is that of a rat catcher. He sets traps each evening and disposes of the rodents each morning.

It takes many hands to place Hyderabad so firmly at the high table of world cuisine.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 10:16:49 PM |

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