Travelling for food. Nothing gives me more joy than tasting the myriad undiscovered flavours of Indian food. This time we scouted the length and breadth of Hyderabad to discover their cuisine. From the Nizam’s rich gravies to the versatility of Biryanis to their decadent sweets, Hyderabad is a veritable treasure trove of exotic flavours. Here we give you our top 6 favourite picks from our recent visit to the city of Nizams. And yet Biryanis continue to be a surreal experience.
One of the first things we did before checking into a hotel at Hyderabad was to head straight to this century-old Hotel near the High court road- Hotel Shadab. Its interiors are ancient and functional with tables covered with sturdy plastic sheets.
That was also our first taste of the Hyderabadi mutton biryani- flavourful basmati rice streaked with juicy chunks of mutton simmered in a secret home-grown masala, served with the traditional Mirchi ka Salan and raita. We also ordered some naans to mop up their other in-house speciality, the fiery Chicken Ghourani, freckled with big fat Guntur chillies and fried curry leaves. That was polished off with a heavy helping of Qubani ka Meetha, which is a thick Apricot pudding.
A decade old Dosa joint
Every eatery comes finely recommended by my friends in Hyderabad. And Ram Ki Bandi falls right on top of that list. It’s the wee hours of the morning and I can already see a minor commotion near this moving cart- a man is pouring dosa batter over a huge broad gas ring. Enough space to accommodate 16 large dosas. Over the elongated crisp rice pancake, he pours a large spoon of sweet corn masala, flicks oil, and garnishes it with a generous amount of grated cheese. On the other half of the gas ring, he ladles schezwan sauce, slivers of cabbage, carrot, capsicum, and spring onion and lard over the pancake. Once done, he quickly tosses it one by one into a serving plate ladled with chutney. Ram Ki Bandi which started as a late-night fast-food eatery 25 years ago run by this MBA graduate (who took over his father’s legacy) is today, one of the most popular Dosa joints in Hyderabad. We had a double cheese dosa and Pizza dosa (apparently, they invented this Pizza Dosa) and both were deliciously cheesy, surprisingly going well with the white coconut chutney. In case you want more recommendations, we suggest their Baby corn Paneer Dosa, Kaju Paneer Dosa, Double Keema Dosa, and of course the Pizza Dosa.
Irani Chai and freshly baked Osmania biscuits
You can’t visit Hyderabad and not visit Nimrah, the city’s iconic bakery. The minute you step in, you get this overpowering aroma of baked cookies. I am already transfixed by the trays of cookies lying invitingly inside glass cases. I think there are some 19-20 varieties (pistachio, chocolate, Kaju, almond, coconut, till, oats) of them. But I am here for their speciality- the Osmania biscuits, named after the last ruler of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan. I order a tiny plate of Osmania biscuits along with a cup of Irani Chai- the sweet and salt biscuits are warm, flaky and melt-in-your-mouth and the chai flavoured with whole spices is perfect to wash it down.
Breakfast at Nayaab
We had a hearty traditional Nizam breakfast at Nayaab, one of the oldest restaurants in the city. There is nothing spectacular about its interiors- rectangular wooden benches and tables crammed inside a tiny restaurant. Though it was early morning, our appetite was already galvanized by the aroma of Malai mutton Paya bubbling in an aluminum cauldron at the restaurant entrance. We sampled mutton soup, the Malai special mutton paya (with the mutton gently sliding from the bone) which was insanely flavourful and had warm Naans with Beja fry and Gudtcha baju and finished it with a Saffron tea.
Best Biryani at Meridian
It won’t be hyperbole to say that we raided various hotels just to sample their famous biryanis. Shah Ghouse, Bawarchi, Shadaab, Café Bahar to the most feted Paradise hotel and finally came up with a winner- Meridian. And their mutton biryani served with their special Mirchi Ka Salan is to die for. Special brownie points for their tenderest, juiciest meat that falls of the bone teamed with lightly flavoured rice.
Mandi at 36 Arabian Kitchens
The Mandi we had here wasn’t the one we tasted back home. Not only was it generously topped with dry fruits, but the rice had this special aroma, and the meat (again succulent) was bursting with flavours. I was conflicted between Biryani and Mandi here. And we loved that garlic sauce they served and also didn’t miss the absence of Mayonnaise.
Tasting Shahi Tukda from an original Nizam cook
Sheer Korma (rich vermicelli milk and date pudding), Anjeer Rabdi (Fig and cream pudding), Kadu Ka Halwa (pumpkin halwa), Kaju Ka Halwa (Cashew halwa), Gil-E-Firdaus (milk pudding made with bottle gourd) Qubani Ka Meetha (Apricot pudding), Anjeer Kheer (Fig), Saffron Kheer-authentic Nawab sweets which take hours to prepare. We tasted their Sheer Korma, creamy and not overly sweet and the Qubani Ka Meetha, which they prepare with overnight soaked figs boiled in sugar: perfect after a heavy meal of Biryani. And we found all this in this sweet shop, owned by someone who hails from the Nizam family. These delicacies sit quaintly inside air-conditioned glass cases in bottled jars and stainless-steel cases. Talk about jars of sweet bliss!
(Balram Menon is a popular food and travel vlogger. You can find him on instagram @balme24)