LOOSEN YOUR PANTS
Words: ANJUMAN DEODHAR
Photographs: VINOBHA NATHAN
GREAT FROM Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai
GREAT FOR A culinary smorgasbord
Being able to pace yourself is a useful skill to possess when you’re in Hyderabad – because gluttony is an imminent risk here. With good reason. Because, despite the palaces and mosques, and a jewellery collection that’ll awaken the kleptomaniac in you, the food is a compelling reason to visit this charming city. The Nizams ruled Hyderabad for over 200 years, and left an indelible mark on its cuisine. Add to that influences from coastal Andhra and Seemandhra region, and you get a foodscape that’s so much more than just mutton biryani.
It’s a good idea to start early, so you have enough time to recover between meals. And there’s nothing better than nihari-kulcha at Shadab Cafe in the old city to kick things off. Try the jabaan (goat tongue) nihari with shirmal – saffron bread.
Another breakfast option that’s lighter on your tummy is chai-biscoot at Cafe Niloufer in Red Hills. It opens at 4.30am, and serves an array of biscuits, including Osmania, the pride of Hyderabad, along with other bakery goods, with enticing names like Dilkhush and Dilpasand. Wash it down with pauna, a thick, milky chai. But this is a strictly functional place, so don’t expect luxuries like a table just to yourself.
But you’ll quickly learn that, here, the appearance of a place has no bearing on the kind of food it serves. Like Cafe Bahar, whose mutton biryani is arguably better than the one at the more popular Paradise – the portions are huge and the prices are a steal. Try the bheja fry, the Bahar special mutton and, if your stomach permits, the qubani ka meetha, an extra-sweet dessert made with dried apricots. Ask for one with ice cream, which cuts down some of the sweetness. Dine Hill is another similar, but smaller, place, whose biryani is almost as good as Cafe Bahar, but the house speciality is the pathhar ka gosht, succulent boneless pieces of mutton actually cooked on stone.
Hyderabadi cuisine has a strong Arabic influence, and this is evident at Mataam al Arabi. To get there, you need to skirt Barkas, an area inhabited by Yemeni settlers, and be viewed with some suspicion by the locals. Matam al Arabi is perfectly safe to go to, though, and the biggest risk you’ll run is confusing it with one of the many imitators that have sprung up en route. It only serves one dish, the Mandi – a biryani rice sprinkled with cashews, almonds and raisins, served in a gigantic plate, which two or three people usually share, either with laham (mutton), chicken, fish or quail. There are no chairs and tables here so you eat squatting on a carpeted floor. Even regulars call it quits after one laham Mandi, but, if you have the stomach for it, try the aseed, made of jaggery, flour and desi ghee.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that all the restaurants in Hyderabad lack ambience. Head north-west from the city centre and the complexion of the city changes completely. Rayalaseema Ruchulu here is a must-visit. Try the naatu kodi vepudu, a fried country chicken, and the chepala pulusu, Maral fish in a spicy, tangy gravy. The dishes here are extremely spicy, so order cautiously.
But no food trail is complete without vegetarian fare. And Chutneys, a chain of restaurants, delivers on this front. Try the lip-smacking breakfast of Guntur idlis and mango uttapam, served with six types of chutney, and a sambar so delicious that you might just forget that it’s only an accompaniment.