HYDERABAD: Amid wisps of thick-blue smoke rising from cauldrons, a sea of people in skull caps move around in queues waiting for the azaan to be chanted from the lofty minarets of mosques. After luscious dates and cool water, the first delicacy during Ramzan, anyone in the city gorges on, is a steaming hot bowl of haleem topped with spoonfuls of ghee, finely chopped coriander and mint leaves along with crushed ringlets of fried onions.
But why Ramzan? The dish, similar to porridge, is known to be a complete meal in itself given it is cooked with a variety of lentils, broken wheat, a handful of rice, mutton and is cooked slowly on wood-fire for at least 12 hours to get that near-to-perfect paste like texture. In almost all the restaurants and even in roadside eateries of the city, you get this silken meat delicacy.
The least modification that one gets in it is the inclusion of chicken, which is equally sought after. Imagine, while there are just two varieties of haleem, what happens when one gets to savour 11 types of the dish whose meat choice ranges from turkey, fish, prawn, and even duck.
Haleem, especially the Hyderabadi version itself, is a refined version of what it used to be. Several soldiers from the Central Asia came to Hyderabad to serve in the Nizam’s army.
City-based historian Sajjad Shahid shares, “The dish was originally introduced by migrants from Arab countries. It was Saif Nawaz Jung, an Yemeni Arab chief the erstwhile Nizam state who popularised haleem.” In fact, it was harees that was introduced to the princely state of Hyderabad.
The dish is still available in its original form at Barkas. Later the cooks in the city added their own condiments, and modified the dish which is now the haleem that is so lovingly relished. And mind you, Hyderabadi haleem is the first non-veg dish to get a GIS (Geographical Indication Certificate) certification which means the dish has to meet the standards set for it otherwise it is disqualified as haleem!
Now given the regal prestige haleem holds on a Ramzan dastarkhwan (tablelcloth), a few food snobs might turn into food Nazis and discard any other meat other than mutton with their stiff upper lip. But it will be interesting if they try the 11 flavours we are talking about.
It took a Parsi and Bombay street food cafe to introduce the 11 variants of haleem and surprisingly the same didn’t come from the traditional restaurants and eateries of the city. The not-so-old SodaBottleOpenerWala cafe has a treat for the devotees this Ramzan. It’s not just chicken and mutton there’s more to this ‘Gyarah Handi Haleem’. You get to taste Turkey Haleem, Prawn Haleem and even Duck Haleem. Then there’s Special Chicken Haleem, Special Mutton Haleem, Anaida’s Original Persian Haleem, Chicken Haleem, Mutton Haleem, Fish Haleem and something for the vegetarians as well: Roasted Corn Haleem and Veg Haleem.
One of the best from the selection is Special Mutton Haleem topped with Talawa Gosht. Anaida’s Original Persian Haleem has singer Anaida’s own secret Persian recipe which stood out with its balanced taste and silken texture. Duck Haleem is worth trying. One mustn’t miss Roasted Corn Haleem.
Despite being a hardcore non-vegetarian, I loved the dish which tasted more of a comfort food for me with the delicious corn kernels and hot paste it consists of. Shaaz Mehmood, one of the partners of the cafe summed it up, “Nowhere else you get such variety of the dish.” To make it complete they are going to serve shirmal along with the steaming hot bowl of haleem(s). Bon apetit Hyderabad!
Price: Rs 200-450 for non-veg haleem, Rs 150 for veg haleem