History does not always lie frozen in the walls of heritage buildings or in memories of grandparents. Sometimes, it is found in the pages of a recipe book, in the instructions of a khansama training his apprentice. You might start appreciating culinary history a bit more when you realise that the Fruit Trifle you are tasting has remained unchanged in the last 100 years, or when you learn that the recipe of a biryani has been the same since the Nizam’s time.
Hyderabad is steeped in history, and a few of the clubs here are over a century old. The Secunderabad Club, one of the five oldest clubs in India, was established in 1878. The Nizam’s Club was formed in 1884 and the Deccan Club in 1900.
These clubs are not only housed in buildings that evoke the glory of the past, but also have recipes that have been with them since the time of their inception. For example, the Fruit Trifle in Secunderabad Club, has a cult following of its own. It was made a part of the club’s menu by the British officers who were stationed in Secunderabad (the club was formed by the British Army Garrisons). One spoonful into the the decadent yet understated dessert, and you know why this pudding is so revered. The dish, which has soft sponge cake as the base, a layer of luscious cream, and a topping of cherries and pineapples, is perfection itself.
Talking about the other favourites, Krishna Reddy Pingle, house committee chairman, Secunderabad Club, says: “We have a main club and a sailing club. We have 16 Food and Beverage (F&B) outlets at these two places. While Mediterranean cuisine is a hit in the main club, the sailing annexe has good pan-Asian fare. We are also known for our sandwiches, fried fish with tartar sauce and Angels on Horseback (sausages wrapped in bacon strips). Around 600 people visit the club every day, out of which 200 eat meals here.
We have 30-40 chefs on our rolls.” Giving more insights into the history and functioning of the kitchen, the club’s F&B manager, Gautam Dev, says: “We have around 15-20 old, handwritten recipe books in our library, which we still follow. Our outlets include the Collonade (coffee bistro), 1878 Bar, Bridge Room, Fountain lawn, AC dining hall (buffets are served here) and others. We still follow the British rank system of bearers, stewards and supervisors.”
Throwing light on some of the special dishes, senior sous chef Manu Bauri says: “Our club is also known for Hyderabadi delicacies like Sofiyani Biryani, which has a mildly sweet taste due to the use of cream. We also have Chicken Anarkali which is a rich Mughlai dish made with magaz seed paste, cashews and almonds. Our Mutton Chutney is also a favourite among the club patrons. In the sailing club, Chippe ka Gosht, which is mutton cooked in an earthen pot, is much sought-after.”
Nizam Club’s biryani is a part of the city’s folklore. The high-ceilinged, white and cream dining hall with vintage chandeliers, transports you to a culinary haven where the Nizams dined. The biryani, you realise, is unlike anything you have tasted in restaurants, and is delightfully filling yet light on stomach.
“We still make our biryani on firewood and the recipe is passed down from one chef to another, remaining unchanged for over a century. Only Potla meat (meat from male sheep) is used to make the mutton biryani. We marinate the meat for 45 minutes and cook the biryani on dum for some 45 minutes. We make it in batches of 2 kg, 5 kg and 10 kg, and it takes nearly 1.5 hours to cook each batch,” says Ghulam Mohammed Fayyaz, the club’s F & B manager.
Another special dish is the Seene ka Dalcha, in which meat only from the breast of goat is used. The club has five main chefs and one assistant chef, and 400-500 patrons visit the club daily. Besides the main dining hall, food is served on the lawns and in banquet halls when there are family gatherings. Mohib Baig, the great grandson of the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad and a member of the club, says: “The club sees a rise in footfall on Fridays when traditional Nizami delicacies like Mutton Chutney, Haleem, Paya and Zabaan are served.”
“You won’t find a single bone in our Haleem. Our Mutton Chutney and Mutton Shikampuri are big crowd pullers too. The Mutton Chutney is made after boiling the meat with tomatoes, chillies, garlic and other spices. Among vegetarians, Malai Kofta and Navratan Korma are the favourite dishes. Double ka Meetha and Apricot pudding are eternal favourites too,” adds the F&B manager. In summer, Phalsa juice and Kairi Sharbat are among the most-ordered items.
For the past 10 years, Mohammed Ayub has been helping his brother Mohammed Majeed in his kabab stall in Deccan Club. In the club, which has outsourced its kitchen to caterers, the kabab corner is a long-staying one. “Our Chicken Zafrani and Chicken Kandahari kababs are bestsellers,” says Md Ayub.
The club has a south Indian kitchen too run by a catering company, and a Chinese kitchen run by Jacqueline Nicholas, who has an Anglo-Indian restaurant of her own. “We used to have our own cooks earlier. We started outsourcing after our club started going into losses. Our patrons enjoy having snacks like Moong Dal Pakoda with drinks in the bar, or having meals on the lawns when there is a Tombola game,” says Avinash Gupta, president of Deccan Club.
— Kakoli Mukherjee