The relics of Qutb Shahi and Nizam rule remain visible till today. With the Charminar and Golconda fort still standing strong, Hyderabad was established as a cultural hub and emerged even stronger with the decline of the Mughal Empire in the mid-19th century. Therefore, it is no surprise, that it is inevitably evident in the city’s distinctive cuisine too. With Hyderabadi Haleem and Hyderabadi Biryani having their own exclusive Wikipedia webpages, we start to wonder about the historic tie of this city with food, and the authenticity that might be getting lost today.
Many of the city’s traditional bazaars, including Laad Bazaar, Begum Bazaar and Sultan Bazaar, have remained open for centuries. We asked five foodies – Adel Darvish, Awsaaf Ali, Mohammed Faisal Ahmed, Rohit Gadepally, Rishi Raj Prudhvi Dara – about their opinion about the food still being served in the nooks and corners of the City of Pearls; and to my delight, the authenticity still prevails.
1. Hyderabadi Cuisine
i. Shah Gouse Cafe & Restaurant, Charminar/Tolichowki
Cost for two: Rs.400
Must try: Chicken Biryani, Paaya, Haleem (Ramzan), Chai
Adel: “Shah Gouse is the king when it comes to biryani. The first branch was started in old city. The immense 2 storied building sells out around 70-80 dekchas (big cooking vessels) of biryani alone in one single day! It’s biryani wins the best biryani award almost every year including 2015. It has 2 more branches now, one at Tolichowki and other at Gachibowli but the feel you get while eating at the old historic building at old city is something you don’t want to miss.
During the holy month of Ramzan, they have a staggering 16 haleem stalls put up right outside the hotel with almost a 100 people serving the delicious haleem to the customers who love to enjoy the hush-n-rush while having their haleem in the car. Nihari and paya zabaan with naan ki roti is another dish that you must try when you go there! The whole feeling of love for food is best felt when you sit and have in there!”
ii. Pista House, Charminar
Awsaaf: “During the times of Ramzan, the hotels in old city glitter with lights, marketing Haleem at its best. The next best known food after Biryani. However, the best known Haleem is at Shah-ali-banda. Also known as Shalibanda. A hotel called Pista House. Pista House has become the international Haleem seller and it’s origin is old city, Hyderabad and that’s where the charm still lies.”
iii. Hotel Savera, Malakpet
Cost for two: Rs.200
Must try: Chicken Biryani, Irani Chai
Awsaaf: “Savera Hotel in Malakpet has been serving one of the best Biryanis in old city since about twenty years. The taste hasn’t changed a bit. Moreover, it never closes. It’s always open and the Biryani is always available. That is 24×7 happiness.”
iv. Chowk Area, Old City
Awsaaf: “There are few places where very, very few people visit. One of them is Chowk in old city. The hotels there are as big as an average room. They sell a dish which was loved and preferred as the healthiest breakfast but the Nizam. The dish is called Chakna. It’s the intestine of a goat. People usually think that this is an unhygienic thing to be eaten, but that’s not true. The people who sell it are the defendants of the cooks who used to make food for the kings of Hyderabad and have been making it hygienically since then, till now.”
2. Arabian Cuisine
i. Mataam Al Arabi, Chandrayanagutta
Cost for two: Rs.500
Must try: Special Laham Mandi, Laham Kabsa, Chicken Mandi
Faisal: “There is a place further to old city, the area is “Barkas”. Mataam Al Arabi is the best place around and the Chicken Mandi and Mutton Mandi are to die for.”
ii. Yum Yum Tree, Chandrayanagutta
Cost for two: Rs.350
Must try: Fish Mandi, Teriyaki Burger
Faisal: “This place is known for its lip-smacking authentic Arabian food and is in Barkas too. Along with reasonable prices, it fosters even-more-so reasonable food to relish. Yum yum tree has those authentic dishes, plus sandwiches like ‘chicken teriyaki’ ‘chicken zinger’.”
3. Mughlai Cuisine
i. Hotel Niagara, Malakpet
Cost for two: Rs.550
Must try: Nahari Paya, Haleem and Malayi Pays
Hotel Niagara is jumping during the Ramzan season. One of the oldest hotels in Hyderabad, it gives you the traditional Hyderabadi feeling as you enter the building with its chandelier and low lighting. Nahari is their signature dish. “Nahari at Niagara Hotel is a must try. With Naan Rotis. Super famous, too”, says Awsaaf.
ii. Hotel Shadab, Ghansi Bazar
Cost for two: Rs.850
Must try: Paya, Chicken Biryani, Shirmal, Shikampuri Kebabs, Nihari, Pakistani Chicken
Adel: “Shadab is like one of the charms of old city in making great food. It is right opposite to the monumental Madina Building which gives the feeling of good old Hyderabad times when you chow down on their specialty dish which is Biryani along with tandoor ki roti and murgh Mussallam! Not to forget their special lassi, the crowd that you get to see in their lassi stall in this scorching heat will leave you astounded.
The best way to enjoy their biryani is to go there, sit with a group of friends and just feast on the delicious food they have to offer. Last but not the least to finish the day, a cup of Chai of the hotel will leave a memorable mark in your mind.”
iii. Dabeerpura Darwaza area, Dabeerpura Road
Cost for two: Rs.250
Awsaaf: “Kebab stalls at Dabirpura Darwaza are quite famous among the people of Hyderabad.
They take about 10 minutes to give the Kebabs because they make everything on spot. It tastes the best with a special roti which you’ll only find in that area of Hyderabad. It’s called Kulche. (Kool-cheh)”
4. Lebanese Cuisine
i. 4 Seasons, Tolichowki
Awsaaf: “There’s 4 Seasons. Only restaurant where you get actual authentic Lebanese food made by the people of Libya. They get their special spices imported from Saudi Arabia. They are known for maintaining the real taste.”
ii. Al Zaara Matbaq Al Mandi, Tolichowki
Cost for two: Rs.500
Must try: Faham, Mutton Mandi
Rishi: “Al Zaara Matbaq Al Mandi is hands down, the best Arabic/Lebanese place in Hyderabad. Located in the busy Tolichowki area, it is one of the foodies paradise if you love the cuisine. The place has seating consisting of pillows and mattresses with curtains covering each cabin. The place indulges you in rich Arab culture with its ambience and the food is lip smacking. The mutton mandi is delicious with authentic flavored rice with succulent pieces of mutton which is tender enough to just fall off the bone. The chicken khabsa is worth a mention and also is a must try.”
iii. Spice 6
Cost for two: Rs.800-1000
Must try: Khabsa Laham, Pita bread and Hummus, Mutton Shawarma and Kunafa
Rishi: “Located on the busy Road Number 1 in Banjara Hills, Spice 6 is known for its authentic Lebanese food. The place is a two storied building which is happening and noisy. One of the few places in Hyderabad which has been consistent in serving quality food over time and also created a name for its cuisine. You cannot miss the authentic and flavorful Khabsa Laham this place serves and is something to die for. This place has the best Kunafa in town, an Arabic speciality which has fried semolina on top molten cream cheese in the middle layer and a crispy crust at the bottom. One of a kind.”
5. Iranian Cuisine
The 17-km stretch between Shah Ali Banda in the Old City and the Clock Tower on SD Road in Secunderabad is home to 29 such Irani cafes including Nimrah Cafe and Bakery and Hotel Madina. They all serve their own version of the authentic ever-so-famous Irani Chai. Even Niloufer in Lakdikapul is believed to serve one of the best. Everybody who loves this speciality has developed their own favorites in different cafes along this 17 kms. However, old city is still believed to have the oldest belt of these cafes.
Rohit: “Irani cafés are run by Zoroastrians; well, started by them to be precise. Those Iranians were Zoroastrians who came to India in the 19th in the 20th centuries. They are different from the Parsis who migrated to Gujarat, Rajasthan, etc in 7-8 Century AD. And hence Parsis which literally means Persians. But the Iranians are the leftover Zoroastrians who came in later.
The best thing is obviously the Irani Chai. The place is filthy, but it’s worth that first sip of tea and the following cups.”