The winter in Hyderabad is as delicious as ever. It draws you out every evening. The sight, smell, taste, feel of winter seduces one like no other. I don't think I enjoyed winters in Hyderabad any more than I am now.
Last evening a bunch of old friends got together and decided to dine out late at the Old City. One of the more adventurous and well-informed among them suggested the famous Mandi biryani at Barkas. I had not heard of this Mandi biryani before. Barkas, I know, from our cricket playing days when we travelled across the length of Hyderabad - past Charminar, past Falaknuma, on to the Srisailam road - until we found the one ground where the Barkas team played their league matches. It was an open ground with a fast outfield, not much of a pitch and most times without umpires. The Barkas team did not like losing and did not like umpires coming in their way with some ill timed decisions.
|Inside the Mataam Al Arabi - The main dish|
Anyway the road to Barkas reads like a list of all the places to avoid when there is some tension in the air - these places are all under curfew at the first signs of trouble. But this was many years ago. I read somewhere that Barkas is actually a corrupted version of Barracks. The people who populate the Barkas are those who have roots in Africa, Yemen in all likelihood, and were warriors who served the Nizams and / or the Qutb Shahis. There were many other stories we would hear of the Barkas area - of the famous bone setters who set fractures and then ask you to eat a biryani (I heard this story but don't know how much of it is true).
Anyway we drove through the city traffic towards Shahi Nagar which is where the source Koni said there was the most famous Mandi biryani available. There was still not much information about what this biryani was about, except that there was an article in the newspaper about it. We came across one joint which advertised its Mandi biryani, went past and saw a few more joints, called a friend who could guide us and found out that he was hopeless in this situation, came back and parked ourselves at Mataam Al Arabi, Chandrayanagutta. We later found out that this was the best joint for Mandi biryani.
|An Arabian setting on the walls|
We headed up the stairs, left our footwear outside and went into a big hall. No tables and chairs here, so we sit around on the floor. We picked our corner. There are some stalls too if you wish privacy but we were okay on that front. We had no clue what to order so we ordered a family pack which the young lad said was good for four. It was probably good for eight.
Mandi biryani is an Arabic variant of biryani. In fact the Mandi joints serve mainly Arabic food which apparently is catching the fancy of the Hyderabadi palate. Now the hall is painted with scenes from Arabia - the desert, Arabs sitting near tents and chatting, a lamb being roasted on fire, camels etc are the themes. The menu had many items - Mandi of chicken, fish, mutton, prawns, quail and so on. It also mentioned Kabsa and Mandi - which we later found was some variation in the preparation. Kabsa was more bland and Mandi had spices.
|A view of the menu, and the family pack Mandi biryani|
Our family pack was a huge plate full of rice, lined with tomato, cucumber etc. On the biryani rice which was spiced with all sorts of spices was fish, mutton, chicken, quail and prawns. The sight of the huge dish got us to lose some of our hunger but when we ended, we realised we did a fair job. We all ate from the same plate like Arabs and formed a kind of a brotherhood - now we are all bound for life (not really!) We consumed 60%, got the rest packed. We tried the desserts - something called Aseet, Qubbani ka meetha and a halwa. All three were decent - though I'd give the QkM a miss here.
Well fed - the family pack costs 1500 bucks so you better order with caution - you can order the smaller portions which come for 300 bucks or so - we headed downstairs. There we found the panwala who showered his expertise on Koni. He made him a paan which he said would clear his head and other such parts - and for the first time I saw a paan being lit. Koni vouched for the slow and powerful effect of the paan.
|Paan on fire |
By the time we were seated in the car it was close to midnight. We could not help noticing the time the restaurant's timings - 12 pm to 3 in the morning. Now how was the place - its ok but can improve in the look and feel - more like a B grade Irani restaurant. The food is good, they say Mataam Al Arabi serves the best. Chicken was nicely done, a full breast, the quail was tender and the taste overall nothing to complain about. I guess I'll need another trip to imbibe the true essence of this Mandi biryani but I have no reservations in recommending the experience. Drive with pals, Mandi and banter - nothing better to improve feelings of brotherhood.
white robes might enhance the experience further!
Raja, There were a few patrons in white robes, Arab style.
Ok hari now I hate you guys!!!!
Cause I wasn't there for the biryani, but..... I forgive you for it.
Thanks Madhav for forgiving me. There was much talk of how things might have been different if you were around to relish the rather large helping we ordered. So you see, the love affair continues - love, hate. forgive and all.
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