Finding flavours in Charming Old Hyderabad
Famous for the Nizams hospitality, its forts, the Charminar , Biryani or as its latest avataar as a tech city...I wanted to experience the grandeur of this great city and the ever so talked about Hyderabadi cuisine, so my next destination was Hyderabad, currently the capital of two southwestern states, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana ,in India. I wanted to find flavours in the Old city and experience the much talked about hyderabad Biryani.
The Charminar ... that's where our food walk started and rightly so . Meaning Four minarets, built in the 16th century by the fifth king of the Qutb Shahi dynasty , Mohamed Quli Qutub Shah ,reportedly as the first building in Hyderabad.
It is said that he wanted to shift his capital from Golconda to a nearby city , where, he built a mosque with four minarets forming the center around which the city was to be built.
Views of the mordern city from The Trident Oberoi and The Charminar
After the Qutub Shahi Dynasty ,the city was taken over by the Mughals. In 1724 Āṣaf Jāh Nizam al-Mulk, the Mughal viceroy in the Deccan, declared independence. That Deccan kingdom, with Hyderabad as its capital, came to be known as the princely state of Hyderabad. this city offers its guests a vast array of riches from pearls to artisans to cuisine that is second to none has a popular folklore about a brilliant general of Emperor Aurangzeb called Asaf Jahi in the 18th Century , who went to meet a great Sufi saint Hazrat Nizammudin before leaving for Hyderabad from Delhi . He invited Asaf Jahi for a simple meal who ate around 4 kulchas. Upon wolfing them down he apologised but the saint pressed him to take more. He went on to eat 3 more.
Wrapping them in a yellow cloth , the saint blessed him saying his 7 generations will rule the Deccan .
A grateful Asaf Jahi embroidered the Kulcha on the Royal flag below a headdress or dastar.And they did rule for 7 generations before it became a part of Andhra Pradesh .From 1956 to 2014 Hyderabad was the capital of Andhra Pradesh state, but, with the creation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh in 2014, it was redesignated as the capital of both states.A melting pot of various communities , Hyderabadi cuisine has been influenced by Parisis, Kayasthas, Marwarris, Anglo Indians ...
Shaadab, Laad Bazaar
The decor struck me as a typical bazaar eatery on the ground floor with ornate ceilings and ordinary seating. The first and I took a sneak modern floor was a bit more peak at a traditional majlis kind of seating on the mezzanine floor...
We were to meet our food guide, Jonty, of Detours India, who at a very short notice had agreed to show us some food gems around the old city.
Settled at a table, from one traveller to the next, we found her quite passionate about her city and talking about its history.
With so many influences, we wondered about the tastes and the marriage of different flavours that we would be encountering in a place that was most famously known for its Biryani
But there is definitely more to the cuisine..
We were lucky enough to land on a Friday where after the prayers people swoop down on Shadaab and savour its delights, one being the famous Shikampuri kebab.
Shikhampuri kebabs are from the Royal kitchens of the Nizams being very distinctly Hyderabadi since most of the kebabs in this region are supposedly cooked on a heated stone. The meat and the spices produce a smoky flavour when they come in contact with the stone.
Pulao or Pulav in Hyderabad is commonly known as Bhagara Khaana, its a very aromatic ghee rice cooked with lots of spices and is accompanied with a lentil with tamarind called Dalcha. This was the vegetarian version of the Dalcha commonly made with mutton. Was delicious.
Rice is prepared all over Andhra in a way that grains should be separate. It is prefered over wheat and other grains though they are gaining popularity with Jowar, eaten in villages and wheat and semolina is used to prepare sweets.
Mutton Roast or ,a deep fried crunchy textured Mutton bite sized pieces with onions and masala and mughlai style rich chicken gravy.
The Mutton Biryani lived upto all the expections we had from Shadaab . Hyderabadi Biryani has its origins in Persia before it made its place in the kitchens of the Nizams . It was definitely one of their favourite dishes since there are references to feasts with 26 or more different types of Biryani mentioned.
Soft and succulent pieces of mutton in the rice accompanied by a salan or spiced gravy and boorani with is creamed yoghurt mixed with cucumber, tomoatoes and spices. Hyderabad’s famous Biryani is different from the one in Lucknow (as from my previous travel post). It is called the Kachhi or raw Gosht ki Biryani where the mutton is marinated spices for a long time maybe overnight and then soaked in yoghurt and placed in between layers of parboiled rice before putting the vessel for Dum(to keep covered to cook in its own steam). it is this style that makes it very distinct . The Nizams loved their Biryanis and it spread far and wide in the Deccan region with many variations to try . Alot has been said about the diferences in the Awadhi Biryani or Pulao but I have savoured both and prefer to let it just be .
served with Boorani and Salan
Funnily enough unlike the cusine of Awadh that has many desserts in its repertoire, Hyderabadis can only take credit for very few , mostly kheers and halwas ...we had a taste of Khubani ka mitha, much like a sweetened apricot stew with a dollop of cream. There is a distinct desert called Badaam ki jaali which are four inch diameter flat rounds and sugar base. Silver Vark is placed on top , usually made at weddings. Also a famous version of bread pudding called Double ka meetha, or shahi tukre , which is sweetened fried bread topped with cooked milk, a remanent of the British influence.
Andhra Cuisine and Hyderabadi cuisine seem to be sharing a small space , each vying for the top slot in this city , but both have their own distinct personality . While Hyderabadi cuisine is better known of the two, the Telengana (Northern part of the state) cooking is exciting to the palate since it takes its special flavour from two ingredients : Tamarind and red chillies. The fresh new flowers and tender leaves of the Tamarind variety grown in Andhra are great for curries which the variety grown in neighbouring Bengaluru, in Karnataka is less sour and great for cooling drinks.
The Tamarind helps to digest the rish and spicy Andhra food and is considered cooling.
The other ingredient, is the flaming hot red chilly, grown in Guntur area and is used extensively in Andhra cuisine. The speciality is a chutney with chillies and tamarind mixed together with salt. A typical vegetarian Andhra meal would consist of a vegetabe pualo , a savoury dish of okra,brinjal or beans variety, a vegetable curry of yam or carrots, a light rasam (spicy soup made of lentils) with boiled rice and a dish of curds, a poriyal which is a kind of salad garnished with coconut. A typical non vegetarian meal could have a biryani,a kebab,seafood or a meat / chicken dish and then similar to the vegetarian meal.
One would definitely have accompaniments of popadums or crisp thin wafers of savoury flour, with pickle and citneys and dessert of a kind of kheer , jalebis or ladoos.
From teacups to plastic items, from a bakery to jewellery ...all were displayed on carts ...walking the maze of inner lanes of laad bazaar , one could be treated to colours..aromas and a shoppers paradise....meanwhile, the beautiful jharokha (window )spotted ...
Spiced up nuts, cornflakes and other grains..I couldnt resist ..Caution - Please eat only if able to consume high level of chilly. Very very addictive.
Laad Bazaar is also known as chodi bazaar or Bazaar of bangles...
Colours did not seem to cease ... came to a cart of spiced nuts and snacks!....
At last, our north Indian genes stopped at a spicy chaat cart, serving paani puri (puffs of wheat or semolina filled with lentils and spiced tamarind water) and aloo tikki like a fried potato cake.
We personally preferred the North Indian version, maybe our pallets are accustomed to that taste. These were high on spice. Carrying water is advisable .
We walked through this maze-like chaotic bazaar, soaking in all the colours, the cacophony of the traders and the shoppers, the whiffs as we passed all the various food carts and perfumes on display to the Charminar .
One of the oldest and largest mosques in India, The Mecca Masjid, built by Mohamed Quli Qutub Shah commissioned bricks to be made from the soil brought from Mecca, the holiest site of Islam, and used them in the construction of the central arch of the mosque, thus giving the mosque its name. It was completed in 1694 .It is steps away from Charminar and one can see its grandeur even till this date.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, the French explorer, in his travelogue observed;
"It is about 50 years since they began to build a splendid pagoda in the town which will be the grandest in all India when it is completed. The size of the stone is the subject of special accomplishment, and that of a niche, which is its place for prayer, is an entire rock of such enormous size that they spent five years in quarrying it, and 500 to 600 men were employed continually on its work. It required still more time to roll it up on to conveyance by which they brought it to the pagoda; and they took 1400 oxen to draw it."
Opposite the masjid, still stands a Unani and General Medicine Hospital established during the reign of the Nizams.
From here we could view the Nimrah Bakery which was our next stop to experience the famous Osmania Biscuits and tea.
Jonty again managed to get us seats in the crowded cafe as it was thronging with locals after Friday prayers. We were treated to various bakery fare, with the famous Osmania biscuits, cake, more biscuits and tea. The tea is very sweet and one dips the biscuits till it nearly softens before savouring it . The sweet and a bit salted comination of the biscuits makes it a favourite of the locals here.
The last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan demanded these been made as he wanted a sweet and salty snack with his tea. So it got its name and savoured till today with evening Irani Chai .
After our goodbyes with our foodwalkerguide, Jonty ,we soaked in some more sights of the old area .. each picture telling us a story of how connected are the lives of the hyderabadis to food .
A silver and gold varq workshop. The making of silver or gold leaf adornment for sweets requires hours of patience .
After passing by a lukhmi heap , I couldn't but stop to buy myself one . Lukhmis are savoury minced meat patties ,especially made as starters ast wedding parties.Dont forget to pick up some next time you are in hyderabad!
Our food walk came to an end that day. We would recommend Jonty of Detours India to take you through an introduction of the city of flavours. ..but we couldn't leave Hyderabad without visiting the Nizams palace and experiencing the Nizami way of hospitality!.... Coming soon on my next post .