HYDERABAD: Hyderabad has a long history of migrants from Punjab. It is said that in the early 19th century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had sent a large army of Sikhs to help the Nizam take on his opponents. Many of the soldiers decided to stay back in the Nizami state and settle down in areas like Hyderabad and Bidar, leading to a growing community of Sikhs here. Hyderabadis welcomed the community with open arms with cross-cultural exchanges. This may be one of the reasons why after Telugu and Hyderabadi food, Punjabi is one of the most favoured cuisines in the twin cities, and eateries serving this food are perhaps the most popular among other regional cuisines even today.
Possibly one the oldest and most popular Punjabi restaurants in the city is Sagar Papaji Ka Dhaba at Abids. It is operating for the last 33 years and has fiercely loyal clientele from all over the city. The outlet was set up by Joginder Singh, who was affectionately called Papaji or grandfather by one and all, and his wife Harbans Kaur. Initially a small place, where the owners used to cook, the restaurant was expanded later by his son to occupy the whole floor, but still, the number of seats are not at all sufficient for the huge crowd which drops in for both lunch and dinner. The pricing is still kept affordable by the father-son duo Kuldeep and Ashmeet Singh the son and grandson of the founder, who currently run this place. Ashmeet is a trained chef from New Zealand, and you can feel his enthusiasm in taking the restaurant to the next level.
What strikes you as you enter the simple eatery is the vibrant atmosphere. The cheerful waiters run around to ensure good service. Most of them are there with the outlet for a long time, and are thoroughly knowledgeable about the dishes here, and engage warmly with the regular customers. The place has a wide range of dishes which are extremely popular. The tandoori chicken here is much in demand, with a proprietary masala which gives a special taste to the dish. Chicken Ashiyana is one of their signature dishes, there is more than a hint of cashewnut in this mild preparation. Kheema Kaleji Gurda and Kheema Mutton are some more of their delicacies.
Tandoori Mutton, which is a must-have here but is only available if you order a day earlier; the soft and succulent mutton pieces with minimal masala are incredibly tasty. Vegetarians can try their Dal Makhni and Palak Paneer. And finally, their thick lassi is one of the best you get in the city.
The personal touch remains as most of the ground masalas used in their kitchen are still prepared at home by the owners. By the end of this year, the restaurant will be expanding to the first floor in the same building.
Sabyasachi is a food enthusiast and blogs at www.foodaholix.in