Random Food Musings from Hyderabad

The second wave seems to be behind us, though many are anticipating a new wave soon. A new normal now is to jump around between the waves and enjoy a little before the panchi is back in the pinjra.  Revenge is the new buzzword with revenge dining and revenge travel ruling the roost. I am no exception to the trend, though some of my friends are predicting that the revenge jumping around going on will result in a big fat new wave. But now the attitude is Jo hoga dekha jayega.

But let us cast that aside for a while and look at the F&B scene in our favourite city. The mayhem seems to have ebbed out, and people are back to the outlets. For the street and small places, it is almost business as usual, whereas the larger restaurants have also started getting some traction. What is most redeeming is that a few new places have started to come up making the scenario much more vibrant.

I had just resumed dining out around December of 2020 but since April 2021 I have not been visiting restaurants much for obvious reasons. Though I had been feasting on takeaways and home deliveries all through the pandemic, lack of exposure to the outside world had kept throwing me into bouts of feeling low. It was finally around late August this year when I could muster the will and courage to finally venture out to a restaurant. 

My first meal outside after a while was in Mercure Hyderabad KCP in Somajiguda. Their coffee shop Cayenne had introduced a set of Executive Thalis for lunch. Coming in two variants - vegetarian and non-vegetarian, the thalis were sumptuous and attractively priced (Rs 400 (veg) & Rs 450 (non-veg) (plus 18% tax). The components had been planned to keep the local flavours in mind. Both the thali variants had some very tasty dishes. 

My picks were Chapala Pulusu (Fish Curry) and Kodi Vepudu (Chicken Masala Fry) from the non-veg thali and Gutti Vankaya (the star of the day, Brinjal in peanut masala) and Palakura Pappu (Spinach Dal) from the veg fare served with Bagara Chawal and Parathas. Then there were some nice Mirchi Bhajjis, Dahi Vada, and Gulab Jamun. The clean environment and quick service further added to my long-lost satisfaction of eating out.

In late August we went on a road trip to the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. During this trip, we savoured the signature tiffins from Kadappa/Ananthpur belt namely the Kaaram Dosas. On return I was pining for more of the same and remembered Panchakattu Dosa, a food truck in Hyderabad (their original shop is in Tadipatri near Ananthapur) serving Rayalaseema style dosas that I had visited and written about before the pandemic.

Enquiries revealed that now they have graduated from the truck to two restaurants, one in Banjara Hills and one in Madhapur. The Banjara Hills one is inside a lane opposite KBR Park, next to Ebony Hotel. One weekend, we landed up for breakfast and perused the short menu of around ten items. Ordered Neyyi Kaaram Dosa and Neyyi Kaaram Onion Dosa. Laden with ghee, laced with red chutney and served with another three different types of chutneys, the dosa was simply delicious.

My only complaint was they have brought down the spice level keeping in mind how cosmo Hyderabad is getting day by day. I like my chutneys fiery. The soft Ghee Idlies were again too good. They serve some refreshing Nannari (a local sharbat which is a must-try). I will be back to try more items like Upma Dosa and Junnu shortly. 

As I had mentioned at the beginning of this post, while many restaurants were reopening after the second wave, a few places have expanded with new branches in the city. Sarita Sarkar of Sarkar’s Kitchen is one courageous lady. We, the Bengali food lovers this side of the town, were pretty disappointed when Oh Calcutta decided to close down their Begumpet outlet. But good news came in that Sarkar’s Kitchen, the Bengali restaurant with multiple awards, were opening their new 60-seater place in Banjara Hills. The restaurant is above Chinese Pavilion, bang opposite Vengal Rao Park.

All the signature dishes from them are available in this new place. The decor with red brick walls and pictures from Bengali art and culture was something to my liking. Mochar Chop, Chicken Cutlet, and Fish Fry brought much cheer as starters, whereas the main courses included Chholar Dal, Begun Bhaja, Mangsho (my all-time favourite here) and Luchi. We also had Chingri Malaikari with rice.  Look out for their Kolkata Biryani and Chaap too.

Overall, the F&B outlets in the city are limping to normalcy. Even the fine dines have started reopening, though promotions like regional food festivals have still not taken off. It is high time that our brave F&B warriors get some respite from the tough times they have been through in the last one and half years. I am among the ones who are very optimistic about the future of these businesses and wish them the best for the immediate future. 



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For The best Hyderabadi food in Hyderabad

Recently at a Facebook live show, I was asked about the culinary map of Hyderabad. The question set me thinking. Over the last few decades, Hyderabad has very much become a cosmopolitan city. With the city becoming an IT hub, we now have representation of most of the national and international cuisines here. Significant numbers of the city population originally hail from different states and this has a lasting effect on the food being offered by different restaurants here. However, the charm of the original cuisines from the city still remains as the major attraction to any visitor to the city of pearls.

Biryani
So, what all can be considered as the original cuisines of Hyderabad? In the recent chat with friend Rajesh Tara (you can see the Youtube video below), I expressed that Hyderabad is home to two-and-half different cuisines. The first and the most popular is of course Hyderabadi (Deccani) food, and this post talks about the leading places for this cuisine in the city. The food of the original inhabitants is what this city is known worldwide especially the signature Biryani. There are possibly a thousand places in this city that offer this dish, many in their own way. Hyderabadi biryani is prepared the Kachhi way (the marinated meat is not pre-cooked, it is cooked completely in the degh with rice and masala in dum), is known for its masala rather than the aroma, and is enjoyed by millions in the city. The most popular zaffrani variety has more than 90% market share and is made popular by restaurants such as Paradise, Bawarchi and Shadab.

Paradise is the brand that has played a key role in putting Hyderabadi biryani in the world food map. While these days it is fashionable to badmouth this establishment, I have had some of my best biryanis here. Their kitchen is modern with due diligence done and processes being followed. A small issue that I have always faced is with the takeaway packs, often the packed biryani does not have the right proportion of white rice, moist rice and meat. Still, I consider them the pioneers as far as the dish is concerned.

Shadab, Bawarchi and Meridian (a comparatively lesser-known place in Punjagutta) are my top picks from the restaurants that serve biryani in the city today. However, if I order at home I prefer the biryani served by some of the home chefs, Naaz Anjum, Zarina Shah and Dakhni Dastarkhaan in particular. Sofiyani Biryani, a completely different dish is available from Naaz Anjum as well as Aish at The Park. Of course, as most people agree, some of the best Hyderabadi food is available at the wedding feasts. 

Haleem

The next hugely popular dish from the Hyderabadi stable in Haleem, a pounded wheat and rice concoction with ghee and masala. Haleem is usually the best during the month of Ramzan, and it provides employment to many people during the holy month. Café 555, Sarvi, Shah Ghouse and Pista House being some of my favourites for this. Grill 9 at Karkhana is another place that has gained recognition for its superior haleem. There are a few places that serve haleem throughout the year, Chicha’s at Masab Tank, Green Park Hotel (a favourite of mine) and Firdaus at Taj Krishna are some that come to my mind. 

Marag

There is much more to the cuisine than the above two. Marag, a fine broth ((a fabulous meat broth, the best version of which you get at Sohail Hotel, Malakpet),  Talawa Gosht (go to Alhumdulillah for the beef and Meridian for the lamb version), Seekh Kababs (Shehran for the mutton and Kabab-e-Jahangiri for the beef), Shikampur (meaning belly full, try it from one of the home chefs), Chicken 65 (at Al-Akbar near Charminar) are some of the dishes that come to mind. Patthar Ka Gosht, Nizam’s favourite boneless meat preparation cooked on a stone is best at Bade Miyan in Upper Tank Bund. This is a special dish from the Deccani cuisine and must be savoured here. Chicha’s in another place where I liked the dish.

For a typically Hyderabadi breakfast, I suggest you visit Nayaab near Madina building. Reach there early in the morning and start with their Paya Nihari simmering in a huge degh near the entrance. While Bheja Fry, Bheja Masala and Bhaji Gurda are some of the known dishes here, do not miss Malai Paya the signature dish here. Their saffron tea or Kesar Chai is another attraction

Malai Paya at Nayaab

Some of the other Irani “hotels” are also known for their offal items too. Enjoy the Kheema at Alpha Hotel near Secunderabad station, or Gurda Bhaji at the Paradise breakfast joint on the ground floor of the restaurant complex. Among other popular dishes, Khichdi Keema Khatta is worth trying at Shadab or Shah GhouseShadab also makes a decent Paya Nihari.

Among the Hyderabadi breads, the most popular is Charkoni Naan, the square naan which has perforation marks to be shared by four people. Quite a few places near Purani Haveli in Old City roll out these naans exclusively, the most well-known among them is Munshi Naan.  The dishes which go well with this naan are particularly Marag and Nihari. In the wedding feasts you get a heart-shaped version of the dish, called "Dil Naan".

Biscuits at Nimra Cafe

When we talk about breakfast, we need to talk about the Irani Chai. Tea is consumed in high volumes throughout the day by Hyderabadis at the countless Irani Hotels in the city. Some of the best places known for Irani or Dum Ki Chai are Nimra Café at Charminar and Niloufer Café. Hyderabad has some fantastic biscuits to go with tea, including Osmania and Fruit biscuits that have been made popular by Karachi Bakery all over the country. At Nimra Café you can see a platter of many types of biscuits they make, among which Chand and Tye biscuits deserve a special mention. And do not leave the city without trying out the Dum Ke Roat at Subhan Bakery at Nampally, for me that is easily the best product in this genre.

Jouzi Halwa

Finally the Hyderabadi desserts. Khubani Ka Meetha made from apricot, and Double Ka Meetha, the Hyderabadi cousin of Shahi Tukra are available in any hotel. Then there is Badam ki Jaali and Ashrafi (fashioned after the coin of Nizam), mostly found in marriages, but you can order them from the makers in old city, they also put up a stall in Numaish, the Hyderabad exhibition during January and February. There are many variations of Hyderabadi sweets with dishes like Kaddu ka Kheer, Ande ke Lauz, the many versions of Phirni and more. The best place to visit for Hyderabadi sweets is Meethe Miyan, a shop exclusively dealing with Hyderabadi sweets at Filmnagar and Banjara Hills. Jouzi Halwa is a Turkish-Hyderabadi dessert which one needs to try at Hameedis at Nampally.

Badam ki Jaali

But Hyderabad’s native cuisine is not just what is known as “Hyderabadi”. A long stint as the capital of undivided Andhra Pradesh has given this city access to some awesome Telugu food from different regions of the state. Maybe I will cover that in another post someday. 

To the readers of this post, if there are your favourite places for Hyderabadi food in the city, please add in the comments below. I will love to visit them. 

Please see the youtube conversation below for more details on food in Hyderabad..




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Noya Terrace & Bar: Hyderabad’s New Scenic Rooftop Destination

The restaurant scenario in the city has taken a major hit during last year, and I keep on ruing the fact that the pandemic has claimed many of my favourite places. However, life goes on as the old gives way to the new. Among the rare newborns in the F&B scene in the city is Noya, the rooftop bar and restaurant at Hotel Avasa.  Replacing the erstwhile Sky kitchen and providing a scenic view of the city, this place is already becoming a popular destination for the handful who are venturing out in this pre-vaccine period.

The place is opening its doors in phases and the first off the blocks is the watering hole on the 12th-floor terrace, with options of comfortable sofas as well as bar seating. The restaurant (to be opened soon) is located on one side of the terrace bar. The other side provides a grand view of the skyline of the city with the illuminated Hitech City metro station. Trains chugging out of the station during my long dinner here took me back to my childhood, when I used to insist on visiting the nearby suburban station every day just to get a look at trains passing by. The indoor part of the outlet will also be housed on the tenth and eleventh floor, with a dance floor to boot.

The menu at Noya is curated by Chef Vignesh Ramachandran, one of the bright young culinary stars on the Hyderabad food scene. Vignesh featured in the India-wide “40 under 40” list of exciting young chefs picked by CNN Traveller last year and is someone whom I respect for his knowledge as well as his modern Indian creations. Many of us are familiar with the good work he has done during the rebirth of Once Upon a Time, the flagship restaurant of the Green Park Hotel group. Here in Noya, his food is distinctly progressive Indian, while the cocktails are again Indian with a twist.

Qubani Ka Fizz (Top) and Kaffir Lime Dusted Cashewnuts

We settled down with Qubani ka Fizz, a drink which is a take on one of Hyderabad’s favourite desserts, Qubani Ka Meetha. The apricot flavoured gin and tonic instantly impresses. A bowl of Kaffir Lime Dusted Cashewnuts has dehydrated kaffir lime dust with some garlic and chaat masala.  The combo instantly lifts your expectations and you look forward to many “hatke” preparations.

Roasted Pineapples and Cheeselings Bhel (top), Tamarind Margarita (middle) and Sparkling Ilaineer Inji

Roasted Pineapples and Cheeslings Bhel was next. The masala-laced pineapples combine brilliantly with cheeslings, the use of which instead of puffed rice is itself very unique. Accompanying this is Tamarind Margarita, using tamarind syrup prepared at their own kitchen. My wife goes for Sparkling Ilaineer Inji, with vodka and tender, ginger and coconut water.

Hyderabadi Mezze Platter (top), Mutton Ghee Roast Patti Samosa (middle) and Karriveppila Mojito

The food continues to rock. The Hyderabadi Mezze Platter is a meal by itself, with Baigan ka Raita replacing the Babaghanoush, and a roasted tomato chutney being standouts among the dips, whereas Rajma Vada, Tawa Paneer and Masala Pita presenting diverse flavours. This dish has the potential to be a signature of this place. I also fell in love with the Mutton Ghee Roast Patti Samosas, as an ideal foil for the cocktails. By then I had graduated to enjoying the curry leaf flavoured Karriveppila Mojito. The bar menu also lists Vodka Kheera Dosakaya and Masala Chaitini, names I will remember for my next visit.

Bydagi Chilli Prawns

A unique dish in the true spirit of concept fusion is Bydagi Chilli Prawns. Inspired by Spanish Gambas Al Ajillo, the prawns are tossed in abundant ghee with the Karnataka Bydagi chillies and curry leaves. Enjoyed the spicy ghee-laden gravy soaked into the pav served with it.

Butter Chicken Pakodas (top) and Chicken 65 Sliders

Butter Chicken Pakoda, where butter chicken and mince are crisply fried into delicious short eats was another of my favourites. A tribute to Hyderabad was Chicken 65 Sliders that worked well especially with the crisply fried 65 pieces tasting familiar and different at the same time.

Tingmo with Beef Curry

The best was kept for the last. Tingmo with Beef Curry for me was definitely the dish of the day. The soft and airy Tibetan bread roll was nice, but the Beef curry cooked in Nepalese style with a distinct flavor of green chilli was simply unputdownable.

Burnt Chhena Cheesecake (top) and Milo Kulfi

The desserts packed quite a punch too. Chenapodo from Odisha is one of the favourite sweets in our household, and Vignesh had turned it into a cheesecake. The Burnt Chhena Cheesecake is definitely a strong recommendation here. It is a pity that we were overly stuffed by then, so could not do justice to it. For chocolate lovers, Milo Kulfi is something not to be missed.

Noya Terrace & Bar definitely is a step in the right direction for Hyderabad, with the availability of state-of-art Indian-inspired cocktails and short eats from the modern cuisine stable. The ambience adds to the overall impact making it a place to put in your priority list for a visit with friends. 

Location:

Noya Terrace & Bar

Hotel AVASA

Huda Techno Enclave, Madhapur, Hyderabad

Tel 040 67282828

Timings: Sunday to Thursday (6 pm to midnight), Saturday and Sundays (6 pm to 1 am)


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Eight Must Order Dishes from Home Chefs in Hyderabad

 The COVID phenomenon and reluctance of food lovers to dine out has really provided a fillip to a different breed of food entrepreneurs. Every city including Hyderabad has them offering different cuisines, often with a s short menu and signature dishes. I have been experimenting with from many home chefs in the city during the last ten months. These are some of my favourite dishes across the home chef spectrum in the city. The dishes are in no particular order.

1. Mutton Glassy –  The Kitchen Table (77310 76662)

This is a special and uncommon dish from Bangladesh, which is supposedly adapted from a British recipe. A milk based mutton preparation this goes well with both rice and rotis. Roshni Nathan of The Kitchen Table is a talented home chef and what I like about her offerings is that she brings forward niche food from different regions with frequent menu changes.

2. Whole Grilled Chicken – Rassasie (91544 22459)

This setup from Jubilee Hills has a few variants of their Grilled chicken prepared in different marinades. I have had a tandoori version which was served with corn cobs, broccoli and baby potatoes.  Some other marinade choices include barbeque and oregano.

3. Chicken Rezala – Sharmi’s Kitchen (95025 50993)

The Kolkata Rezala is part of the Muslim cuisine from the city that has gained widespread acceptance all over the country. Rezala from “Sabir” an old favourite from Chandni Chowk in Central Kolkata has won many hearts, and is a must do for a foodie in the city. The sublime white gravy with cashew and poppy seeds can be enjoyed in Hyderabad from Sharmi’s Kitchen in Domalguda.  You can also try her Kolkata style biryani.

4. Pork Curry – The Pork Affair (98499 60070)

Hyderabad is not very well-known for its pork dishes, as many restaurants avoid cooking the meat which is not consumed by Muslims. I rely on Deepak Kumar’s “The Pork Affair” for my pork staple. He has two signature dishes, but that pork curry cooked in local style is my out-and-out favourite. I usually ask my pork to be bought as only meat (minimum lard), but you can choose from the various other options he has available on his menu.

5. Thai Pineapple Fried Rice – Devils Pot (79958 64607)

There are hardly any home chefs promoting food from Thailand in the city. Devil’s Pot in Banjara Hills has a number of Thai dishes on their menu, and most of them taste very authentic. But Thai style Pineapple Fried Rice with abundant prawns was the dish that impressed me most. Not to speak of their Tom Kha Gai and Pineapple skewers. 

6. Sofiyani Biryani – Anjum’s Kitchen (99082 43017)

Naaz Anjum’s Kitchen is definitely one of the top places to order Hyderabadi food from. She is one of the most successful home chefs in Hyderabad with a vast repertoire of local dishes. It is but natural that her biryani is sought after. Among her trademark biryanis, I prefer the not-so-common Sofiyani Biryani from her rich in curd, cream and cashew paste. It is something which is available in very few places commercially.

7. Dhokar Dalna – PeekNCook (99856 77336)

There are many Bengali home chefs in this city, but perhaps the most accomplished of them is Moumita Ghosh of PeekNCook. Her Bengali vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies are in huge demand, and her Bengali sweets are just unputdownable. Dhokar Dalna, a Bengali style gravy of fried lentil cakes is something I would like you to specially try from her. Who says vegetarian Bengali cuisine does not have blockbuster dishes?

.8. Dum ka Murgh – Dakhni Dastarkhan (99896 00054)

The slow-cooked Chicken dish is the most popular gravy dish in Hyderabadi cuisine. For tasting the best quality Dum ka Murgh I recommend Dakhni Dastarkhan, a venture of Home Chef Aqsa who is from a well-known Hyderabadi family known for their culinary expertise. Other dishes like Shikampur and Talawa as well can be ordered from here. 

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