Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Hyderabad Series - Eating in Hyderabad

Eating in Hyderabad is a great experience and everyone is agreed on that. In fact eating is a fine art here and we spend most of our time eating and refining the art of eating - just as we do with the post eating belching, paan chewing and spitting are. So when asked what about Hyderabadi food everyone here puts on a knowing look and say 'Hyderabadi biryani' and that pretty much ends all talk of Hyderabadi food. All rookies find the first guy who serves 'Hyderabadi biryani' which is now being served by anyone and everyone. From the mom and pop store biryani made by cooks who have just been imported from the Andhra region (no clue about the H biryani), to the many guys who serve biryani in the same menu along with misspelt Chinese food and idlis and vada, right up to the guys who know how to make the Hyderabadi  biryani but are suffering either from a severe case of complacency or too much competition, there is an assortment of 'Hyderabadi biryanis' thrown at the rookie. Unfortunately, today even the supposedly best biryani, does not match up to the authentic taste of biryanis you can get (try a Muslim wedding) which is to die for.

Anyway, for all the first level biryani eaters, the advise is this. Please try and do some research on authentic Hyderabadi biryani in Hyderabad and then go about applauding it. Don't eat it off the guy round the corner and think it's the one. There was a time when Hyderabadi biryani was served exclusively in the Irani cafes and they all had a taste that was so 'Hyderabadi biryani like'. I can still tatse it. And over the years, from the early eighties to now, many a restaurant has claimed, by popular vote, to be the best biryani house in Hyderabad. Early on it was Alpha hotel near the Secunderabad railway station which had the honour of being the best H biryani hotel. People raced out of trains to grab a packet and race back. For many years I found no competition for Alpha. Though Paradise is the reigning queen of the Hyderabad biryani now, there were many claimants in between - Moghul darbar at Liberty, Azizia at Nampally, Asian Cafe at Nampally, Parwaaz at the same place, Bombay restaurant at Gunfoundry, Niagara in the old city, Madeena and Shadab near Charminar, Bahaar at Basheerbagh, Astoria Cafe at RTC cross roads, Garden restaurant at Clock Tower which were all Irani cafes known for their fine biryanis. There was Mohini at Basheerbagh which served wonderful zafrani biryani, and probably the best mutton biryani I ate in Hyderabad, for one short period of time. Surprisingly most restaurants find it difficult to maintain the quality and they lose out after a while. All good but for a genuine taste of biryani one must at least once taste biryani in a Muslim wedding or a Muslim house. Worst case, try some of the better hotels that offer the midnight fare.

But no Hyderabadi food experience is as simple as it was then in the eighties when one either ate a biryani at an Irani cafe or ate full meals or some Udipi fare like idli and dosa. On adventurous occassions we ate Chinese food at Blue Diamond, Nanking, Alex's Kitchen or Hi King. Or for chaat, the Koti joints. Or for fish fry the joints near Tank bund. Now one has so much choice that one does not know what to eat and where. A million biryani joins each claiming to be authentic (that word means that they are not), a million Chinese joints, Udipi's all over the place, Chinese joints from push carts to high end restaurants, barbecue joints, Thai joints, Sizzlers joints and regional food joints. There are subways, sandwich joints, chaat joints - enough to make you go queasy in the stomach. I really have no favorites left in the new order though I'd recommend Bade miyan's kababs (short menu which shows that he knows what he is doing) and especially the pathar ka kabab that he makes with the warqi roti. In my younger days at school in All Saints we used to eat the famous tandoor roti and mutton combination which was to die for. Ah, I loved that food.

Few Irani joints have their tradition left. Most menus have been corrupted by the idlis and dosa eating population. The leisurely chai and kheem roti or kaleja and other such delicacies (bheja fry being one) are fading out. Chais are extraordinarily expensive at Rs. 8 for a small cup but worth it after a good meal.

The desserts which are of Hyderabadi fame are the qubbani ka meetha (often mistakenly referred to asqurbani ka meetha by our public), double ka meetha and the like. There is the famous kulfi that Mohini serves which is wonderful and one cannot ignore the colorful falooda which must have come with the Moghuls or Persians. My vote normally goes for qubbani ka meetha which is always a pleasure.

During Ramzan time we all queue up to eat haleem which is served in the evening when the fast is broken. This is a wonderful dish, a porridge made of wheat and meat, ghee and dry fruits, and much more. It is delicious, heavy and protein rich. But it's something that I realised you don't get everywhere in India, not even Mumbai. Something of an acquired taste but I have not seen anyone stop with one haleem - they always come back for more. For haleems all the Irani cafes are in contention - some who make the haleem out there in the courtyard and serve till late at night. Pista House has claimed some sort of a legitimacy on the best haleem as I believe its haleem is parcelled abroad as well. They have many distribution centres and its well packed and easily available. A few years ago the Postal Department had tied up with Pista House to deliver the haleem but I am not sure if the arrangement holds still. All other Irani cafes and restaurants like Paradise, Red Rose, Garden, Bahaar, Melli, Niagara - you name it and they make it. In fact even Mohini restaurant in Bahsheerbagh makes some fine haleem. After six in the evening is when they start serving it.

Other foods to eat in Hyderabad - and I will stay close to that which is kind of peculiar to Hyderabad - are the snacks and street food. Along with your chai Irani restaurants serve an assortment of bakery items like Osmania biscuits, dilkush, dil pasand, tie biscuits and some more such stuff that can be consumed best with a chai. In fact the tie biscuit (so named because it resembles a bow tie) tastes like nothing on its own but when dipped in chai, tastes heavenly. Alternately one can consume chai with samosas. Typically the Hyderabadi version is called chote samose which are small in size and taste like nothing you have tasted on earth. Completely different but very addictive.

In regional food one finds little of Telangana food. The Rayalaseema Ruchulu brand has done a great service to that region by bringing forth the tastes of Rayalaseema alive wonderfully. From the ragi sankati to mutton curry and other Rayalaseema delicacies, this restaurant is really good for spicy fare. There are several Andhra meals restaurants including Abhiruchi, Bheema, Minerva and others that cater to the Andhra cuisine - the first one is non vegetarian and the other two are vegetarian. Try the meals with one side dish. There are a few Nellore cuisine restaurants with rather long names as well which complete the circle. Nellore cuisine is supposed to be one of the best in non vegetarian food with their chepala pulusu (fish curry) being the highlight.

Street foods include the mirchi bajjis and other forms of deep friend bajjis and punugulu and vadas, the ubiquitous paani puri walas, bhel puri chaps, and such stuff that is best eaten in the evening times when one is ready for a snack. Biryani, chai, kababs, qubbani ka meetha. There is enough for the foodie in Hyderabad.

No comments: