Hyderabad is famous for its history, its culture, its warm people and something that has always had the greatest importance in their lives – their food. Food is never just to fill their stomach or about its nutrient value. For a Hyderabadi, food is about comfort and pleasure – a passion that has made their city famous. People who are not comfortable with a little spice in their food will miss out on the unique cuisine of this princely state, nurtured by Sultans who were among the richest rulers of their time, with all the treasures of the Deccan at their disposal to fund every whim and indulgence they fancied. The city was the centre of many innovative culinary techniques devised by royal chefs (Khansamas), who were highly regarded by the rulers and famed for their skills in conjuring up luxurious dishes fit for the Deccan nobility. The food was called Ghizaayat and the recipes were a closely guarded secret, religiously maintaining the authenticity of the past.
In Deccan medieval cuisine, banquets were common among the aristocracy. Multiple courses would be prepared and served in a style called Shahi Dastarkhan (A long cloth laid on the floor or a low table called chowki, on which food and dinners plates were placed), with cotton mattresses for squatting and bolsters for the backrest. People were careful not to step on it or go over it, instead they went around it to reach the other side. Food was generally eaten by hand, shared by both commoners and nobility. The food was mostly meat oriented, being grilled and fried in a tandoor. The curries were richly seasoned and flavored with exotic spices. Fruits were preferred rather than dessert, after the main course. Once the meal ended, black tea called Kahwah was consumed, with lime or elaichi added to digest the rich food. Today it’s called Suleimani Chai. The cuisine varied greatly according to the seasons and festivals.
This cuisine was first developed during the rule of Sultan Quli of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. The rulers promoted their native cuisine, but encouraged the best be drawn from other food traditions, to make it the most luxurious and delicious in the land – be it the native Telugu or Andhra food, or the dishes from Turkish, Mughal, Iranian and Marathwada cuisines, which were all sources of inspiration in the evolution of the royal Hyderabadi cuisine. The main ingredients that separate these recipes from North Indian cuisine are the use of red chillies, coconut and tamarind, peanuts, and sesame seeds. Chicken and mutton are among the most loved meats in this cuisine. It comprises a broad combination of wheat, rice and meat, along with a masterly use of herbs and naturally aromatic ingredients like tomato, saffron and spices. The cuisine emphasises the use of ingredients that are carefully chosen and cooked in the right degree and time. Utmost attention is given to picking the correct spices, meat, and rice. Therefore, an addition of a certain herb, spice, condiment, or a combination of these add a distinct taste and aroma. For example, Murgh do Pyaaza is so named because Onion (‘Pyaaz’) is added to the dish twice, in different variations. Some other renowned Hyderabadi dishes are Mahekhalya, Kacchi imli ka Dalcha, Maleeda, Gulgule, Qubuli, Nihari, Khichdi, Qageena, Kulfe ki katli, Ambaday aur chanay ki Dal, Til wali Gavar ki phalli, Kacche Kofte, Chugar Gosht, Shikampur-Shaami Kawab, Luqmi-Kawab, Dum ka Qeema, Kheer, Gaajar ka Halwa, Pasinde ka Salan, Bhendi Ka Khatta, Boti ka Salan, Marag, Aloo Methi Gosht, Besan Ka Salan, Dil Khush, Kulcha, Rowghani Roti, Mithi Dal, Mash Ki dal, Sheer Qurma, etc.
Traditional utensils made of copper, brass, and earthen pots are used for cooking. All types of cooking involve the direct use of fire. Hyderabadi chefs believe that the key to good cooking is patience, ‘itmenaan se’. Slow-cooking or Dum (steaming over coals), is the hallmark of Hyderabadi cuisine and had its influence from the Dum Pukht method used in Awadhi cuisine (sealing the dish with dough and gently simmering the ingredients over a low fire, to increase absorption of spices).
The modern cuisine evolved during the time of the Nizams in the mid-17th century, who ensured that most of the foreign food had been improved to suit their culinary preferences, resulting in a unique and improved derivative cuisine, be it the pulao (Iranian pilaf), the Biryani (Turkish) and Haleem (from Arabic harees). The Nizams served some 26 varieties of biryanis for their guests. Til ke chatuni is drawn from Arabic tahini or sesame paste, Persian dried lamb with beans is modified with dalcha, tanduri naan of the Uzbeks (central Asia) created Sheermal. Most of the modern day desserts in Hyderabadi cuisine were invented during the time of the Nizams, like the Badam-ki-Jhab (marzipan), and Dil-e-Firdaus (a rich milk based sweet). Often, for formal occasions, the food is garnished with warq (a fine, silver leaf created by prolonged hammering and flattening of a small piece of silver).
Today, Hyderabadi cuisine rules throughout the Deccan, which includes the Telangana, Marathwada and Karnataka-Hyderabad region and further north in India, and is not confined to Muslim tastebuds alone. Known for its aroma and subtle use of spices, the cuisine also contains city-specific specialities like Hyderabad (Hyderabadi biryani), Aurangabad (Naan Qalia), Parbhani (Tahari), and Bidar (Kalyani Biryani). Other dishes that have stood the test of time and become world-famous are Hyderabadi Haleem, Paaya, Qubani ka meetha, Baghara Baingan and Pathar ka Gosht. Pista house is one place famed for its biryani and haleem. Paradise Hotel has won many awards for its Biryani. Bawarchi is a cheaper option but also popular for biryani and kebabs. Shehran, Grand hotel, Niagara, Paradise, Shadab, Ohri’s, Kolhani, Kamat, Taj Mahal, Swathi tiffins, etc. are a handful of other established eateries. In Hyderabad, you must also try the Irani Chai, Rio Samosa, and the world famous Karachi Bakery’s fruit biscuits. Irani Chai (Tea) is believed to relax you at the end of a busy day’s work. Its famous in the Old City area of Hyderabad. Osmania Tea biscuits are very famous too. They are named after the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, who is said to have relished them.
Hyderabad is as much about haleem as it is about biryani and baghara baingan. Haleem is made in many places, but the one in Hyderabad is unique in taste and flavour. As for the baghara baingan, this brinjal dish is probably the only one of its kind – heavily spiced and rich. Only the Nizams could ensure that the humble baingan would turn into a delight forever! Hyderabadi Cuisine has different food for different events, be it banquet food, or for weddings and events, festival food and travel food. The category to which the recipe belongs itself reveals its characteristics – the time required to prepare the food, its shelf life, taste, etc.
In the month of Ramzan, whether you are a Hindu or Muslim does not matter, because at this time of the year, all Hyderabadis eagerly await the steaming, fragrant Hyderabadi Haleem sold at every nook and corner, especially places close to masjids – a delightful treat which you can buy from a large handi, in which the concoction cooks all day. All the little shops which dish out regular food set up the handi stand a few days before the festival of fasting begins. Haleem is also a hors d’oeuvre on occasions like weddings, festivals, etc. Haleem means patience. It often takes an entire day to prepare this high calorie dish.
This is a well known celebration meal for Hyderabadis, a divine combination of meat and rice. The Hyderabadi Biryani has become ubiquitous all over the country. There are basically two types of biryani – kacchi (Raw meat and rice cooked together) and pakki (cooked meat layered on to cooked rice). There are many varieties of this dish – the Hyderabadi Dum Biryani, Zafrani Biryani, Kache Gosht ki Biryani and Kheeme ki khichidi. Besides beef and mutton, this dish is also available in chicken, fish, egg, paneer and vegetarian versions. Paradise, Bawarchi, Hyderabad House and Pista House are some of the famous places in Hyderabad that serve exceptionally delicious biryani.
Some Iconic Hyderabadi dishes
- Hyderabadi Marag - A thin mutton soup
- Garle - A spicy snack of kheema balls dipped in besan batter and deep fried
- Angrezi cutlet- Cutlets made from spicy kheema and bread made into a mash, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried
- Tootak- Spicy kheema wrapped in rava-batter mixture and baked
- Ande ki pakodi- Slices of boiled eggs, dipped in besan batter and deep fried
- Kheeme ke samose- Samosas with kheema stuffing
- Bagara khana - Basmati rice delicacy.
- Dalcha - Mutton and Lentil dish.
- Dum Ka Murgh - Rich chicken curry
- Churri- Thick yogurt raita with chopped onions, green chillies and coriander
- Chakna - A dish made from Goat intestines and tripe, with flour and spices.
- Bina Masale Ka Murgh - chicken cooked with only curd, turmeric and saffron
- Muthhi Key Kebab - Mutton Meatballs
- Dum Ka Keema - Mutton-mince curry
- Maghaz Masala (Bheja Fry) - Goat’s brain deep fried.
- Kairi ka Dopiaza - A curry made from lamb with fried onions, butter, etc. in a spicy, sour gravy
- Khorma Gosht – Curry with Mutton, potatoes and a variety of spices
- Kulfa Gosht – Chunks of Lamb in a succulent and spicy Purslane leaves mash
- Palak Ka Gosht- succulent lamb chunks in spicy spinach leaves mash
- Masala Mutton - lamb curry with curd, peanuts, chilly, sesame and coconut paste.
- Binees ki Phalli Gosht – Lamb Ribs with French beans Curry
- Sem Ki Phalli Ka Salan – Sauteed Indian broad beans
- Turai Gosht – Ridged Gourd with Lamb in Tomato Sauce
- Turai Methi Gosht ka Salan – Ridged Gourd and Meat in Fenugreek leaves sauce
- Baghari Turai aur Chane ki Dal ka Saalan - Split Bengal gram with Ridged Gourd
- Chuqandar Gosht - Beetroot in Spicy Meat stew
- Arvi aur Gosht Ka Khatta Salan – Colocasia and Lamb meat Stew
- Kaddu Ka Dalcha – Bottle Gourd in Legume Soup
- Chugur Gosht - Lamb & Tender tamarind leaves curry.
- Boti Kabab - Minced meat, skillet fried.
- Bhuna Gosht - dry, spicy mutton.
- Tala huwa Gosht – Braised Meat in aromatic spices and onion
- Khatti Dal - Made with tamarind.
- Rawghani Roti - A type of Bread.
- Pasandey Ghosht - boneless strips of meat cooked with spices
- Talawa Gosht
- Hyderabadi Nihari - A breakfast dish made of Goat’s feet and tongue.