Hyderabadi Cuisine – a Treasure Trove of ‘Hidden’ Gastronomic Gems

Hyderabadi cuisine, with its extraordinary culinary treasure trove that goes back to 400 years, has always stood out for its smack-in-the-face, fiery local flavours along with the dashes of Iranian, Turkish, and Mughal influences.

For food historians, critics, and chefs across the country — and even the world, to some extent — Pearl City is almost an institution due to the ingenuity of its dishes, home-grown ingredients, and cooking techniques. Take, for example, the ‘potli ka masala’ — Hyderabad’s very own spice mix that creates the magic. And, it is indeed magical when it takes you over 20 different herbs and spices including ‘royal’ ingredients such as dried rose petals, sandalwood powder, roots of the betel plant, and stone flowers. These blend together to impart inimitable flavours to a dish, putting Hyderabad’s signature on it.

Amidst all the glory and fanfare, what assumes the centre stage is the Hyderabadi ‘Kacchi Gosht Ki Biryani’. It has consistently won not just taste buds and hearts, but also global recognition for being one of India’s top gastronomic delights.

Apart from biryani, there’s the other Hyderabadi specialty — Haleem, which became the first Indian meat-based dish to earn the GI (Geographical Indication) tag in 2010.

Now, the twin stars of Hyderabadi cuisine have again made headlines, this time securing their place on UNESCO’s renowned “Network of Creative Cities” list.

However, what makes Hyderabad’s culinary scene even more interesting is its eclectic array of dishes — some of which are as unique as their names. Undoubtedly, they are relatively lesser-known than their world-famous peers, but they pack some serious punch in terms of flavour and taste. Let’s take a round of these ‘hidden’ delights.

Patthar Ka Gosht

Cooked on a slab of granite stone, this Nizami delicacy is truly a melt-in-your-mouth experience! Mutton pieces marinated in choicest spices, left overnight and then, cooked gently on stone and over coal, gives this dish its irresistible tender texture. Unfortunately, given its elaborate cooking technique, it’s now becoming rarer and rarer. Bade Miyan Kababs and Al Rahaman are two of the best places in the city to taste this divine dish.

Doodh Ki Biryani

Hyderabadi Biryani, the star of Hyderabadi cuisine, has plenty of varieties to delight everyone, and this Doodh ki Biryani is a jewel among its royal varieties. Prepared by blending aromatic spices and roasted nuts with creamy milk, this delicately flavoured Biryani is the polar opposite of its hot and fiery cousin. Though it’s a little hard to find a good Doodh Biryani in commercial eateries nowadays, you can sample a plate at Café Bahar.

Kalmi Kabab

Kalmi Kebab is an import from the Mughlai cuisine, which the khansamas of Nizam’s royal kitchen modified with local spices. Coated with a rich and flavourful marinade, this dish — usually served as an appetiser — is infused with the nutty aroma of cashews. The silky and tender kabab pieces have a mild flavour of spices, while yoghurt used in the marinade makes them juicy and succulent.

The legendary Paradise and President Dhaba serve some rather fantastic Kalmi Kababs.

Keema Methi

The aroma of Fenugreek or Methi leaves mingled with finely minced lamb or goat meat creates this beautiful dish that’s loved for its balance of rich and subtle flavours. This centuries-old Nizami recipe is a served in most major restaurants across Hyderabad.

Mirchi ka Salan

While not nearly as unknown as the other dishes on this list, Mirchi Ka Salan doesn’t really enjoy the star status of the dish it’s often paired with. You guessed it — Hyderabadi Biryani. However, the salan holds its own as a delicious curry prepared with green chillies. The preparation is a spicy and quite thin curry, which blends together tamarind, coconut, peanut, and sesame seeds to create an explosion of aroma with every bite!

Jauzi Halwa

Legend has it that Jauzi Halwa was one of Nizam’s favourite sweet dishes. Having its roots in Turkey, the sweet is prepared on a low flame using milk, wheat flour, special spices, saffron, nuts, and copious amounts of ghee. The low on sugar, Jauzi Halwa, which has layers of various flavours, has a distinct taste.

hyderabadi cuisine - Jauzi Halwa

Hameedi Confectionery in Hyderabad is the undisputed destination to enjoy this dish.

Gil-e-Firdaus

A mouth-watering dessert, the Gil-e-firdaus is Hyderabad’s version of kheer and is mostly served at wedding functions. This simple yet tasty dish has white pumpkins playing the lead role. Other ingredients in this dish include saffron, cardamom or elaichi powder, dried fruits, rose water, and thickened milk. Though Gil-e-Firdaus has been missing from the restaurant scene so long, you can sample its taste at some newer establishments like Meethe Miya and Hyderabadi Daawat.

Anokhi Kheer

Anokhi, in Urdu, means peculiar or unique. And, that’s exactly how this dish is! This kheer subverts all notions of a sweet dish with its use of onions. Replacing rice as the main ingredient with big, white onions, this dessert is a part of the Nizami Sultanate cuisine, Anokhi Kheer, besides milk and onions, requires khoya and sugar. Many people add pista, cashews, almonds, and cardamom seed powder to heighten the flavour and taste of the dish. Jewel of Nizam – The Minar is oen of the top places where you can taste this unique item.

Shahjahani Meetha

Throughout India, there are different variations of Halwa, but most foodies wouldn’t know about the Shahjahani Meetha or Tomato Halwa. Having a refreshing aroma, Shahjahani Meetha, a sweet dish of the Nizami cuisine, is a blend of tomatoes, ghee or butter, dry fruits, and mawa. Cooks often use a paste of beetroot to enhance the colour of Shahjahani Meetha, but beetroot paste is optional, as it just adds colour and does not change the taste of the tempting Halwa. Many restaurants in the Old City still serve this dish.

Lukhmi

Lukhmi is an Urdu word, which means ‘a tiny bite’. Consumed as a snack, Lukhmi is very much like a Hyderabadi version of North Indian Samosa. The palatable snack has minced lamb or goat meat stuffing, marinated with ginger garlic paste, onions, spices, and other ingredients. Usually served with chutney and salad, the crisp, fluffy, layered and savoury Lukhmi is great as a lip-smacking appetiser.

The cuisine of Hyderabad’s aristocrat Nizams was all about extravagance and grandeur. It was truly as rich and varied as the history and culture of the city. However, because of speedy urbanisation and commercialisation, unfortunately, a majority of the above recipes are getting lost. To keep the heritage of Hyderabadi cuisine truly alive, we need to preserve these ‘hidden’ gems. Failing which would be a huge loss to food lovers around the world.

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