Takeaway

Hyderabad rekindles the fire for heritage cuisine

Mallik Thatipalli | Updated on August 05, 2021

Desserts on offer: Seviyan and badam ka khund are popular sweet dishes   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Nothing about it is quick or simple. Meats need days of marination, spices are ground from scratch, and cooking takes hours. Yet, dishes from the Nizam era are winning new connoisseurs

* In the past couple of years, Hyderabadis have begun to re-discover their culinary heritage — a recipe at a time

* Slow cooking, in fact, is a running theme in many heritage dishes

* Many recipes are family owned and not shared with the khansamas

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In recent years Hyderabadi cuisine may have largely been reduced to biryani and haleem, but, those dishes say little about the sheer range of the city’s food culture. Meat that requires marination for days, foods cooked in special deghs (containers), and masalas grounded from scratch using 20 or more ingredients have whetted the palates of the city’s aristocrats for centuries.

After the State of Hyderabad merged into India in 1948, the khansamas and kitchens of yore slowly took a back seat as convenience took precedence over culinary wonders. Over the years, while dishes such as paya, nihari, pattar ka gosht and lukhmi were popularised through food walks and bloggers, the real essence of Hyderabadi cuisine — its vintage dishes — are only now being commercially resuscitated.

While they never left the repertoire of old families, the dishes were not a viable proposition for restaurants — they took too long to make, had to be served fresh and people who knew the recipes had progressively shrunk in number. However, in the past couple of years, Hyderabadis have begun to re-discover their culinary heritage — a recipe at a time. Home cooks, gourmet services and restaurants are resurrecting recipes which are a unique combination of Nawabi lifestyle, interesting techniques and matchless skill.

Slow simmer

Take kuzi, for instance; a rare and expensive dish of lamb leg slow cooked with almonds and saffron. It takes 6-8 hours to prepare. Home chef Shahnoor Jehan, who started Khassa (which translates into cooked food) in 2015, says that there is absolutely no short cut or secret ingredient. The trick lies in the way the dish is cooked on a slow flame and demands continuous monitoring.

Labour of love: Kuzi is made of lamb leg slow cooked with almonds and saffron and takes 6-8 hours to make   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Shahnoor recreates the recipes of her mother-in-law, late Begum Shaheda Samad, and her grandmother late Muzaffar Unissa Begum — women whose recipes chart the journey of Hyderabadi cuisine in the last century. Her menu includes popular offerings such as rann gosht (lamb leg), kairi ka dopayaza (mutton with raw mango) and delectable sweet offerings such as seviyan and badam ka khund.

A specialist in recreating heritage recipes, she says, “The only thing I never compromise on is the method of cooking and the ingredients. We are available on pre orders only. Many dishes that we make need lots of preparation and cooking time, and a majority of them are slow cooked.”

Slow cooking, in fact, is a running theme in many heritage dishes. The process results in better flavouring, better mix of spices and makes the meat incredibly tender. The technique applies to desserts as well. “Badam ka kund takes approximately eight hours to make. There are no short cuts. It’s a desert (halwa) made only with almonds and saffron and full cream milk. Its authenticity, preparation time and the ingredients used make it expensive. Even one wrong almond can spoil the dish!”

The dishes are difficult to make and have precise requirements. Every dish can’t be cooked on the same flame or temperature or in the same container. Mutton, which forms the base for many of Shahnoor’s recipes, needs to be just right. She explains, “The Telangana potla (live lamb) should be not more than 8 kgs and should be healthy. For example, mutton dalcha requires seene ka gosht (chest pieces) only. For the right flavour we can’t use boneless meat. In the same way one has to use only tender leg pieces and even chopping needs to be precise.”

Heirloom recipes

The restaurant Chicha’s started in 2016 is known for its authentic Hyderabadi fare. While it serves mean local delicacies such as khatti dal (dal/lentils with tamarind), talawa gosht (mutton fry usually served as a starter, and made from soft and tender lamb), and marag (spicy mutton soup), the focus is twofold: Introduce new dishes and also, explore the older cooking style for popular items on the menu. One of the founders Qutub Alam Khan, nephew of the redoubtable Nawab Mehboob Alam Khan, the doyen of Deccan cuisine, has dug into recipes from his family’s kitchens and given them a fresh lease of life.

“Most of what we cook was very common among old Muslim families a century ago,” says Alam Khan. “It’s not easy to replicate it as it involves a cumbersome cooking process and has a small shelf life.” One of the rare dishes from Chicha’s kitchen is the mulla do pyaza served only over the weekend — a very uncommon traditional Hyderabadi dish. Used as travel food in the early 1900s, the dish does not use water and its prime ingredients are milk, saffron and ghee. Alam Khan explains, “Its flat bread is called roghni roti, which is topped with tala hua gosht (boneless mutton cubes) and sprinkled with a variety of toppings such as paneer, lemon, chana powder among others. It is like a desi pizza.”

Most dishes taste different at Chicha’s. Their biryani is strictly cooked in a dum under wood fire and the marination protocols are strictly followed. The entrepreneur shares, “When we started our restaurant, we were unable to sell our biryani! Then we realised that people had got used to the commercial fare and didn’t realise that ours was as close to authentic as it could be. We strictly use sweet water and ensure that we give rice one-and-a-half hours to soak in the juices.”

They are usually sold out by the evening and don’t make a batch till the next day! Alam Khan is planning to add other options such as ande ke lauz and tutak (a harder version of lukmi which needs to be consumed instantly) into his repertoire.

End notes

Naqsh is a 120-year old dessert service which has been sampled by the likes of Indira Gandhi and Queen Elizabeth on their visit to Hyderabad. Noorani Faraaz Siddiqui, a digital marketing professional, has made it popular on Instagram and works with his mother Farhana Siddiqui to cater to the modern-day Hyderabadi. The recipes belong to Faraaz’s great-great grandmother and were handed down the family, from mothers to daughters, as heirlooms.

Sweet finish: Naqsh makes only five desserts, and uses the same ingredients — almonds, cashew and sugar — in all of them   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Naqsh means ‘moulds’ in Urdu and they make only five dishes from different silver moulds, using the same ingredients of almonds, cashew and sugar. Ashrafi (a sweet in the shape of the Nizam’s coin), boat ki halwa (the only dessert they serve in a liquid form), badam ki jaali (triangles/flower shaped), maske ke lauz (shaped like a diamond), and paan are the five sweets which are made only on order.

“The process of making each sweet is the same. Difference is achieved by removing the dishes from the pan at specific temperatures. The texture of each dessert is different as is the cooling process. The cooking is tedious, and the mixture needs to be stirred for 45-minutes without a break,” shares Faraaz. They are also not for the faint hearted as each kg of sweet uses a kg of fresh ghee.

The moulds which give the dessert shape are equally important. Made from pure silver (as it is not corrosive in nature) they are made by a single family from the Old City of Hyderabad and they have been making them for generations. The speciality here is that no milk or maida is used in the process. Faraaz adds, “These desserts are not commercially available, and the recipes are also hard to come by. They reflect the city’s Nawabi culture.”

Many recipes are family owned and not shared with the khansamas, who prepare the dishes, the family members add the ingredients and know the measurements. At a time when the city is re-engaging with its food legacy, these gourmet boutiques have become the last custodians of traditional Hyderabadi cuisine. With the younger generation taking a keen interest in this legacy, looks like vintage Hyderabadi cuisine may survive to be savoured for a while more.

Mallik Thatipalli is a journalist based in Hyderabad

Published on August 04, 2021

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