Travel: An ode to the not-so-royal side of Hyderabad

This charming city will not only satiate your haleem and biryani cravings, but also give a taste of an equally flavourful culture

Updated: Aug 18, 2018 22:45:36

By Saubhadra Chatterji

The grandeur of the Chowmahalla Palace is best viewed during the sunset (Dinodia)

On this overcrowded road, this eatery is a packed house. The aroma of Hyderabadi cuisine overwhelms the evening’s tiredness, heat and the usual chaos in the rush hours.

Four employees are working like robots to distribute, in small plates, the dish that makes Hotel Shadab such a sought-after place: Haleem.

Others are polishing off their plates. I, like a true Bengali, taste just two spoonsful of Shadab’s famous haleem but spend more time talking about it.

They say that in every corner of old Hyderabad there’s either haleem or biryani, and even a miniscule joint will boast about being the greatest in this vibrant and spicy world of lip-smacking food.

The city’s Grandeur is best viewed during the sunset, when the Hussain Sagar whips cool breeze across its shores

The road to Charminar has turned into a makeshift market. I negotiate my way between scooters and cycles, shoppers and shop-lifters, families arguing about which sunglass to buy, delicate porcelain perilously close to my elbow, protruding rods and dirty water.

Nearly an hour later, we are at the Charminar. I marvel at the iconic monument while my friend Bappa and his wife Sam – in this city for six years – curse us for wasting their precious Friday evening in a dirty market.

Let the feast begin!

A true Hyderabadi by heart and keen to prove that this city can also be enjoyed differently, Bappa gets fried meat and prawns packed from a nondescript take-away joint Sri Kanya the next day. With a wide grin, he also opens two bottles of chilled, super strong beer. (Last time when I wanted such a drink, my mentor Aditi Phadnis politely asked me, “Are you a mill mazdoor?”)

Fried meat and prawns from take-away joint Sri Kanya pair excellently with chilled beer ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

Sri Kanya delivers a blockbuster. The food is hot in true Andhra style, but it is fresh and the spices create a riot of flavours in the mouth. The place is new and I feel happy to make a discovery.

My wife drags me to her friend’s house in the most boring part of the city (outside the window I see paddy fields). The two women decide in favour of biryani for lunch. Since my opinion stands no chance, the iconic Paradise or even Bawarchi’s legacy has no takers. We head to Café Bahar because my wife declares, “Kalyan Karmakar has spoken highly of that place.”

It’s a Sunday, and the serpentine queue makes it look like a polling booth during elections. Seats are available in the non-airconditioned section but the women won’t compromise with the comfort of air-conditioning. My job, for the time being, is to stand in the queue and every now and then ask the man at the door, “How long do we have to wait?”

“Just 10 more minutes sir,” is his staple answer for about 30 minutes.

Hyderabad is not just about food stalls. Its architecture and the Nizam-era jewels add glamour to it

The food, when we are finally served, is worth the wait. I return to Delhi with splendid memories of listening to classical music at Shilparamam, a long tour of Chowmahalla Palace, a visit to the Mecca Masjid and tasting home-made ice cream.

The climate leaves you sweating, but it’s the warmth of the Hyderabadis that melts your heart, I conclude munching on a Karachi Bakery biscuit.

On repeat mode!

After a few months, I am again in Hyderabad. This time to report on CPI(M)’s mega meet for HT. At the first opportunity, I hit Bawarchi and then Paradise. The biryanis taste different but both get full marks. They are not like my all-time favourite version from Kolkata’s Aminia, yet both take one somewhere near divinity.

But when Bawarchi, Paradise and Sri Kanya are ticked off the bucket list, I hit mid-life crisis. I check out a new Malayali eatery, hit Bappa’s pad for a late-night music session and even visit the CPI(M)-run canteen for a quick lunch break.

The most stunning view of the Charminar is from the Mecca mosque ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

The no-frills makeshift canteen for the event is run by local women who take pride in associating with communists but also welcome bourgeois journos. I pick up a plastic plate and wait for my turn to be served rice, dal, yoghurt and prawns.

The “loose prawns” or shrimps in a dry masala blow me away. I never had anything like this. It’s not too heavy on spices, and the fresh prawns leave a lingering aftertaste.

It’s too late to convert to communism. I do the next best thing. Get hold of a senior CPI(M) Politburo member and tell him, “Your ideology is not getting votes but your food can rule hearts.” He obviously gauges me as if I am a neo-liberal conspirator of capitalism.

Beyond the binge

Hyderabad, however, is not just about a dream run in food stalls. Its splendid architecture, the Nizam-era jewels carved in stones, add glamour to the city. The grandeur of the city is best viewed during the sunset, when the Hussain Sagar whips cool breeze across its shores and the world of the stones comes alive. You fall in love with Hyderabad.

The evening rolls into night. I am at the posh Begumpet neighbourhood to join a get-together at Sandy’s place. The host once played cricket with Mohammad Azharuddin. He is now hyperactive and desperate to put things in order for this guest from Delhi.

Road-side stalls offer super delicious food in Hyderabad ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

Two Sony speakers are rolled in. One of them is as tall as the cabinet. “This is for karaoke,” Sandy smiles through his fat moustache.

At the far end, a glass cabinet is stacked with miniature bottles of alcohol. The numbers are enough to put any shop to shame. “That’s a stock of more than 170 brands. Thanks to my neighbour who has travelled to more than 120 countries,” quips Sandy.

The rude shock comes when I try to open a bottle. The landlord scrambles to remind us that these bottles are for show. The stuff to use is kept elsewhere. He brings out a dusty bottle of Glenfiddich only to discover that there’s no corkscrew at home.

Next, I see that they have broken the cork into pieces, which are floating on the precious single malt. “Where is the sieve?” shouts someone.The drinks are ready. The karaoke blares through the silent neighbourhood.

And guess what Sandy’s daughter-in-law brings for me? A plateful of home-cooked loose prawns! 

From HT Brunch, August 19, 2018

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First Published: Aug 18, 2018 20:19:09


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