HYDERABAD: Remember celebrated food connoisseur Meryl Streep as Julia Child in the Hollywood flick Julie & Julia and how selectively she would pick her veggies from the local markets for that perfect hot broth? Or back home our very own Big B cooking a huge pot of Zafrani Pulao in the movie Cheeni Kum and Tabu creates a ruckus returning the dish saying it doesn’t taste like Zafrani Pulao at all!
Well, that tells you what goes on behind the cooking scene. When the table is laden with the delectable delights a food connoisseur knows his ratatouille and bruschetta from a simmering pot of Baba Ghanoush and a colourful platter of Fattoush Salad. Yes, the food tasters we are talking about who can dissect even sprigs of parsley or give an oral documentary on humble potato as to how French Empress Marie Antoinette decorated her bun with a bunch of purple potato flowers and made the
vegetable a fashionable food in the elite
circles of France. Then in the city there are select food connoisseurs who know the secret recipes passed on from generations to generations and are consulted by luxury hotels for that special touch. We find out about hidden food gems of Hyderabad by talking to food writers, bloggers, food tasters and chefs in the City of Pearls. Read on:
Nimish suggested by food consultant Pratibha Karan
They say that Nimish was made with the dew collected during the cold months of winter. And food author Pratibha Karan discovered the dish when she became the daughter-in-law of the royal Karan household. After learning more about Hyderabadi cuisine under the guidance of her mother in law, Karan soon became a food consultant with the ITC Group of Hotels and has penned two books titled Hyderabadi Cuisine and Biryani. Pratibha Karan talks about this hidden gem, “Nimish is a sweet dish made of milk and saffron and served in clay plates. Closest to it comes the taste of Khubani Ka Meetha served with cream.” It is available only at Old City eateries on special request. Her food journey started from her husband’s home where she would sit with her mother-in-law and cooked under her guidance. She discovered Nimish a winter delicacy cooked in old traditional Hyderabadi way which many city-folks have now forgotten. She shares, “It’s a sweet dish made from milk and saffron. It is served in clay plates.” she tells us , “For sour taste in our kitchen we’d add tender tamarind shoots and that’s because of the Telugu influence on Hyderabadi cuisine.”
Pratibha adds, “Good food is made with a lot of fursat (leisure) and mohabbat (passion). I learnt a lot of food secrets even from our kitchen maids.” She shares with us her best-kept food secret, “For a delicate touch I learnt to use potli ka masala which was a bouquet garni consisting of sandalwood powder, khus khus and rose petals tied in a muslin cloth and put in the simmering meat pot.”And that’s how once after reading two of her books on food US ambassador Peter Berley wanted to track her and ended up being her guest. She adds, “Hyderabadi food isn’t just biryani and haleem there are a lot of varieties such as Achar Gosht, Khatti Arvi Ka Saalan and Dilnaaz (Qeema filled tomatoes) which many people do not explore.”Karan, who has hosted guests ranging from US ambassador Peter Berley to Japanese dance troops gives us her list of Hyderabadi favourites. “If you’re looking for something really special, the restaurant Palace Heights at Abids does a great Dilnaaz, mutton kheema stuffed in hollowed tomatoes,” she says.
Veg haleem discovered by chef Smita Dugar
It’s not often that you get to cook for the royalty in their palaces and then your recipe is featured in the menu of Taj Udaipur. Well, for Smita Dugar, city-based food expert it was not difficult. She was on Master Chef show and stood seventh in the contest. She was invited to cook for Maharaja Arvind Singh of Mewar. She writes for different publications and is considered an expert when it comes to food festivals organized by different hotels. Smita loved her food from childhood as along with her family she has lived in different Indian cities. “I was fond of reading as well and read a lot of recipe books. Then this Master Chef thing happened and the rest as they say is history.”She read 100 recipes of haleem and discovered veg haleem that way. She says, “It tastes just like a bowl of mutton haleem. It is available in Pista House. One just can tell the difference between veg haleem and mutton haleem.”
Narangi Ka Do Pyaza recommend by Begum Razia Baig
Theatre is an integral part of Hyderabad as is food. Old Hyderabadi families know a lot of secret recipes and Begum Razia Baig chairperson of Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation is one of them. As the denizen of the city Hyderabadi cuisine is her domain which has taken her far from a shy bride to a seasoned food expert as her food journey began from her home itself. She tells, “Since I belong to one of the oldest Hyderabadi families and follow our ancestral recipes passed on by generations and from the Asaf Jahi kitchens.” As a young bride she discovered Pineapple ka Dalcha for the first time at her in-laws’ place after her marriage to theatre personality Qadir Ali Baig. The dish was a favourite in the kitchen of Prince of Berar Azam Jah Bahadur. She still remembers the taste, “Such food items are now lost in memory.” A food memory that she still cherishes is, “Nahari with parathas that her mother used to cook.” She shares another food discovery, “We still cook old-age Hyderabadi Narangi Ka Dopyaza (mutton cooked in orange juice) at home.” Razia Baig is a food columnist in a city newspaper and is asked for food consultation. She finds that Hyderabadi cuisine is making its way back to the city food platter.
Andey Ka Lauz reminisced by food blogger Arundati Rao
There are bloggers who go their own way whisking recipes and knowing their Safeda Biryani from Kabuli Biryani. City food blogger Arundati Rao has 25,000 followers on her blog 'Escapades' and its FB page. She now runs cooking and baking classes at her Manikonda studio. As a food expert she is invited to many city hotels and restaurants. She documents the experience of her taste-buds in her blog-posts. But the food memory that is still dear to her is of her home when her aunt used to cook out in the open space on wood on special occasions. “I still remember that mixed smell of wood-smoke and delicious food,” she reminisces. Ask her about the culinary discoveries of the city and she shares, “There are twenty types of biryanis in Hyderabad. It is a result of fusion food: fusion of Muslim cuisine and Telangana culinary secrets.” She discovered a lesser-known sweet dish which now not many people know, it’s called Andey Ka Lauz. “It’s a type of halwa cooked on very slow fire and with a lot of labour. Not many people in Hyderabad know about this food. It’s like Andey Ka Halwa in texture,” she informs. One can savour Andey Ka Halwa if not Andey Ka Lauz in small time Old City restaurants.
Rural dumplings discovered by chef Sanjay Thumma
Chef Sanjay Thumma of Hyderabad is known more for his YouTube recipe channel. He has 1,500 of them. Not just in the city he is popular overseas in Europe, Australia and USA. His Facebook page alone has more than 400,000 followers. He is consultant to many five star hotels. He owned some restaurants in Chicago, but he sold them all and started Vah Reh Vah the YouTube channel. The way borders change so do cuisines. Ask him about his recent discovery of a unique food and he shares, “I discovered a native rural recipe in Khapra village; in a potful of boiling water fresh-cut grass is put, it is covered with a lid and atop are kept some dumplings. The taste and aroma of these dumplings are just out of this world. It shows how people with limited resources can cook phenomenal food.” One can savour this dish by going to the village as it’s 1,370 Kms away from Hyderabad. This place can be reached via train.