hyderabadi biryani

Hyderabadi Cuisine: A Unique Blend of Cooking Styles

Hyderabadi cuisine, also known as Deccani cuisine, is the native culinary art of the Hyderabadi Muslims, which started to develop after the founding of the Bahmani Sultanate, and more radically with the foundation of the Qutb Shahi dynasty around the city of Hyderabad.

As Hyderabadi cuisine began to develop further with the amalgamation of Mughlai, Arabic, and Turkish delicacies, blended with native Maratha and Telugu culinary traditions, it subsequently became a royal legacy of the Nizams, the erstwhile rulers of the State of Hyderabad.

The unique blend of Mughal, Turkish, and Arabic cuisines, along with traditional Marathwada and Telugu preparations, is what makes the Hyderabadi cuisine so special. These varied influences and exceptional diversity basically make the Hyderabadi cuisine stand out in a country where food is a religion, worshipped and celebrated all over.

The cuisine, mainly comprising of rice, wheat, and meat dishes prepared with various natural edibles, spices, and herbs, has different recipes for different occasions. It is broadly classified into banquet foods, festival foods, travel foods, and foods for weddings and parties. Jahaji Korma—a spiced meat delicacy—for example, derives its name from ‘Jahaj’, which means a ship, and can be categorized as a travel food meant to be carried for long-distance journeys.

Hyderabadi Cuisine in the Medieval Times

Native Andhra cuisines were prominent and popular until the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire, but when Muhammad bin Tughlaq shifted the capital of Delhi Sultanate from Delhi to Daulatabad, this Deccan region rapidly started adopting foreign cuisines. Later, when Turkic general Ala-ud-Din Bahman Shah revolted against the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century and formed the Bahmani Sultanate, he appointed Turkish noblemen in high positions, who introduced the Turkish cuisine in this South Indian region.

Banquets were a common part of the Deccan medieval cuisine, very fashionable among the noble families. Multiple courses were cooked and served in royal banquets, in a style known as Dastarkhān, where a long cloth was laid on the floor on which dinner plates and side-dishes were placed. The menu largely comprised of meat-oriented preparations, either grilled or fried in tandoor. Curries were seasoned and flavoured by using a variety of spices. In those days, fruits were preferred after the main course, rather than dessert. After the end of the meal, Kahwa, a liquid hot drink was served, which contained ingredients that help digest food.

hyderabadi cuisine

Hyderabadi Dishes Today

The continual influx of migrants into Hyderabad has transformed the Hyderabadi cuisine into a form of culinary art. The modern Hyderabadi cuisine, however, evolved during the rule of the Nizams in the mid-17th century. During that time, most of the foreign food experimented with various Indian spices, which led to the creation of different recipes that eventually excelled over the original versions to establish a separate identity. For instance, it is well known that Biryani is from Turkey, and Haleem is from Arab, but the Hyderabadi variety of Biryani and Haleem have elevated itself to achieve a unique status altogether.

Similarly, the native til-ki-chutney was modified with Arabic tahini, Persian dried lamb was refined with dalcha, and tandoori naan of Uzbekistan was modified to create Sheermal. Even, most of the modern day desserts in the Hyderabadi cuisine were also modified during the times of the Nizams, which have today become an integral part of the local cuisine.

The Nizams of Hyderabad State were great admirers of art, culture, and food. They, in fact, allowed a grand fusion to happen between North Indian, Central Asian, and Deccan cuisines, which led to the introduction of delectable recipes that form the core part of today’s Hyderabadi cuisine. The influence of several components, sourced from various parts of the world, is what makes the Hyderabadi cuisine so very fascinating.

Hyderabadi Cuisine Is Much More Than Just Biryani

The southern city’s 400-year-old culinary history, almost like its culture, is vibrant and diversified, but unfortunately, Biryani seems to have taken the centre-stage as the sole representative of Hyderabadi cuisine, pushing all other dishes to the back seat. Be it North Indian Peshawari delicacies like Sheer Korma, Chicken Korma, Bina Masale Ka Murgh, or Gajar-ka-halwa, Turkish delights like Asaf Jahi Kebab, or traditional spicy South Indian dishes like Dum Ke Baingan, Colocasia Curry, Mirch-Ka-Salan, and Bagaara Baingan, all these great preparations are slowly fading away.

Same is the case with mince savoury Lukhmi, Persian bread Sheermal, Badam-ki-Jhab, milk-based sweet dish Dil-e-Firdaus, or the popular bread pudding Double Ka Meetha. Though the footprint of some traditional Deccani dishes can be still found in the bordering towns and popular Hyderabadi restaurants, these rare recipes and ancient flavours are however dying gradually and surely. A systematic documentation of the history and recipe of these mouth-watering delicacies is the need of the hour, or else, these beautiful preparations will be lost forever.

Interestingly, most of the Deccani cuisines derive their name from the ingredients used, and the method of preparation, for instance, Murgh-Do-Pyaza, which gets its name from the onions that are added to the dish twice in two different ways. What makes these Hyderabadi dishes so exceptional is the use of diverse ingredients, meticulously chosen and cooked to the right point. The addition of condiments, special spices, and herbs, create an incredible taste and texture that adds uniqueness to the dish. The rich blend of Masalas, typically herbs, condiments, and spices, provide the dishes a tasty base, popularly known as the Gravy. Some of the ancient blends of herbs and spices used in special dishes are kept super-confidential and is only passed down the family line, or from the Ustad (Master) to the Shagird (Student).

The influence of religious and regional dishes, experimented time and again to perfection, enabled the Hyderabadi cuisine to create and uphold a unique identity of its own. One such example is the Hyderabadi Biryani, which is a major crowd puller, attracting a significant number of food lovers to the city from India, as well as from all around the world. Though we might complain about Hyderabadi Biryani stealing the show, there is no denying that other authentic Hyderabadi dishes need to be plucked from the pages of history and brought to the tables of food lovers across the world. Only then can we hope to restore the incredibly beautiful tradition that Hyderabadi cuisine is!

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