Bus tickets, flight to the next city and then the return flight to Mumbai were booked and yet there was a nervousness, an apprehension about what if, what if all that I had built in my head, all those stories of Nihari, Kheema, Haleem and Biryani from Charminar would turn out to be nothing more than eye-candy. Myself and Karan (yet again) started out on this exploration of the next two cities in our quest to search for stories of food, people and everything that connects the two. Our homestay was way too cool, Hyderabad kind of cool with a bungalow right in the most chic lane of Jubilee Hills that overlooked the KBR Park. Bag were dropped, a quick shower and one kadak chai courtesy of the caretaker later we were off to 'The Place', Charminar. It had to be Charminar because all these days, the build-up had been everything around it, which upon arrival was slightly disheartening, the grandeur of the monument covered in scaffolding, too many uncontrollable road-side hawkers, people taking selfies, forex crooks with humongous bundles of thousands, and in the midst of it vehicles honking, abusing their way through the main street.
Walking past Charminar, we stopped at Nimrah Cafe (which has some quality cup of creamy Irani chai), glanced at Pista House (known for its Haleem during Ramzan), before finally arriving at the much talked about Shah Ghouse Cafe for one thing and one thing only - Dum Biryani. We hadn't had a proper meal since getting off the bus, anticipating that the ride and then the walk to Shah Ghouse would be worth that plate of rice and meat. And mostly it was, every morsel of that Biryani, every bite of the Chicken with that minimal marination was tasteful and the plate along with bowls of Mirchi ka salan and Kachumbar (Raita) were wiped clean in less than ten minutes. I am sure it was tasty, or it could just have been the hunger? First plate of Biryani in Hyderabad had turned out to be a big thumbs up. Perhaps, a sign of tasty things to come in the next 10 days.
That evening was spent wandering around, absorbing the place, the people, the way of things and more importantly understanding the cultural difference between this part and the part of city that we were staying and more used to. Although the visuals provide a clear demarcation of the class of people, the unity across religion is very obvious and perhaps a great sign. The language is Dakhini, and it is indeed the flavour of the place. They are known by their haus and nakos and extensive use of baigan as a profanity, adjective, noun, pronoun and anything in between.
The agenda for the next day or two was to ride around the length and breadth of the city to get an understanding of the location of prominent places that we had setup interviews at and also to move around catching some local scenes from not just Charminar. We actually started from Hitech City, travelled to Begumpet on the east side and then drove down to Barkas in the south, more closer to the airport, and back home again sipping Chai, munching on Pattice and of course looking for more of Nihari, Kheema, Khatti Dal or another plate of Biryani. We had our meeting scheduled with Elahe Hiptoola (prominent Hyderabadi actress and now also a movie producer) at Hyderabad's well-known open cultural space 'Lamakaan' located in Banjara Hills. Lamakaan belonged to Ashhar Farhan's (now one of the four pillars of Lamakaan) uncle 'Moyed Hasan'. A short conversation with Elahe over Chai, Samosa and everything Hyderabadi we went back to Jubilee only to find ourselves with exactly that much energy left as needed to make it to Charcoal in Madhapur for some local burgers. And, oh boy, was that a treat of some kind. A corner house-patio converted into a grill house flipping Chicken, Mutton, Fish fillets and sliding them into buns with minimal dressing and slices of cucumber, tomato and some lettuce. Everything here was pocket friendly and makes for a perfect location for the hostel hungry neighbourhood. Their Indian Salmon Burger has to be our pick from all that we had. At around 140 to 180 bucks a piece, these burgers were absolute bang for bucks.
On Day Four, the plan was to meet Murthy a.k.a Murthovic (well-known Electronica artist) at his studio in Begumpet. Murthy, who grew up in the city, performed local gigs that initially fuelled his passion, worked different professions until he could start on what he was always addicted to, Electronica from the West. As he confesses, making a name in the genre of an unidentified type of music was never going to be easy; especially, having a talk with the family who has served in the Indian Army since two generations, but once set on his journey he hasn't stopped and is now regarded as one of India's top electronic music producer. We shot an hour long interview with Murthy at his terrace, a part of which he dedicates to developing his very own micro garden. Turns out that this Music Producer can cook, and cook some complex dishes like Rogan Josh, Biryani and the household favourite 'Khatti Dal'.
Wrapping up from Murthy's studio, we were on the quest for a plain, not another plate of extravagant Biryani, but something light or perhaps, off the beaten path. And it turned out to be just that way at 'Kabul Darbar' in Lakdikapul. The aroma of Chicken Sajji enveloped the entire corner of the street, followed by the sights and sounds of Afghani Paratha being pulled out of the flaming hot tandoor and a pit of red earth where couple a dozen chicken were cooked slowly over open flame. We spoke to the owner Azam Khan just out of curiosity and found that most of his food is exactly what the Khanabadoshi people from the mountain side in Afghan have been cooking, while they hiked from one end to the other, carrying with them livestock which they would sacrifice in a religious way and prepare the flesh near camping fire and used a handful of spices in its preparation. We would have loved to indulge in their Kabuli Pulao, but the goal was set: Anything, but rice! So Chicken Sajji, Chopan Kebab and a large Paratha was devoured at peace on a velvety dastarkhwan.
So far Hyderabad had been very satisfying, visually with its archaeological greatness and also by means of food-very superior and where people have an understanding and acceptance for only use of quality ingredients and not just any mish-mash that you would grab-n-go in any other fast-paced metropolis, but not here. Neither is the pace fast, nor do the people believe in anyone who opts in its favour. Let's just say they are inert in a different way, mildly hard-working, but more importantly they believe in enjoying family and friend's company more than a digital association with their smartphone or any social network. People here like to catch up for Chai at any given time and occasion. I love such people who can serve me a mind-boggling cup of tea late at two o'clock in the morning and that too with a calculative ratio of Tea&Milk and finish with a couple of spoonfuls of evaporated milk. Slurp!
Rest of the days were reserved for shooting at Barkas, few events at Lamakaan, Thali from Kakatiya Deluxe Mess in Kukatpally, trekking the Golconda Fort and gathering a bank of time-lapses. Barkas already sounded tough, not physically, but visually to capture it's entirety in a few hours, get local information and lastly to feast on a massive extra-extra large plate of Yemeni Laham Mandi; Rice, Goat's Meat, few chops served with chutney, kachumbar and something that's only an art to finish within two people. The landscape of Barkas in general is very barren, made up of short exposed-brick buildings usually painted with advertisement of local brands, many mosques, beef shops, and whole lot of dust storm in hues of brown and beige. Once past the gorgeous Falaknuma Palace at Enginebowli, the start of Barkas's territory is easily distinguishable. When mentioned to a few people that we made a trip to Barkas for some exotic Mandi, the reactions were 'Yes, they've heard of it, but never been there'. A sense of achievement was unlocked on every such occasions that we took it as a task, travelled and now have a tale to tell.
Considering we had a week and half on hand to capture all of the Hyderabad and it's near-far sections, we managed to nail almost all talked-about areas and ate at most of them too. Luqmi, Khatti Dal, Qeema Khichdi, Patthar ka gosht, Paya Shorba, Haleem, Warangal style full-fledged vegetarian meal and some 10 different plates of Biryani and Mandi had been consumed, most of these washed down with a cup of chai.
If I have a long weekend on hand, my bike agreeing to participate in another chapter of long rides, then a twelve hour ride to Hyderabad is surely on the cards.
See you soon Hyderabad! You've been an incomprehensible dose of awesomeness.
Here's the list of our recommedations for eating out in Hyderabad:
- Nimrah Cafe, Charminar - Chai & Biscuit.
- Shah Ghouse, Charminar - Biryani (Any).
- Dinehill, Masab Tank - Kabsa Mandi.
- Sarvi, Banjara Hills - Patthar ka gosh.
- Cafe Bahar, Basheerbagh - Chicken Biryani (Highly Recomended).
- Lamakaan, Banjara Hills - Qeema Khichdi, Chai Samosa.
- Charcoal, Madhapur - Indian Salmon Burger, Mutton Terminator, Juicy Lucy.
- Hotel Savera, Malakpet - Kalyani Biryani.
- Diamond Hotel Tea Point, Banjara - Irani Chai (open until 2 a.m).
- Grand Hotel, Abids - Biryani, Rogan Josh.
- Kabul Darbar, Lakdikapul - Chopan, Sajji, Chapli Kebabs, Afghani Paratha, Kabuli Pulao.
- Matam Al Arabi, Chandrayangutta - Laham Mandi, Fish Mandi, Batair Mandi.
- Kakatiya Deluxe Mess, Ameerpet - Thalli.
- Rayalaseema Ruchulu - Anything from Rayalaseema cuisine.
- Pista House, Charminar - Haleem
Watch the 'I Was Here - Hyderabad' full episodes here: