With the onset of Ramzan, the gastronomic feature of the city is ready to undergo a dramatic change to absorb haleem – the extremely favorite dish of Hyderabad denizens.
Think of Hyderabad’s mouth-watering cuisine and kebabs and biryani come to mind. After all, it is the land of ‘nawabs’ and ‘kebabs’. However, come Ramzan and the specialties that are tantamount to the city’s foodscape get relegated to the back burner as the only tempting dish of the season is haleem.
In fact, the demand for haleem, particularly during Ramzan, is to such an incredible extent that with the purpose of providing to those who are avowed vegetarians, almost every eatery also offers a vegetarian haleem!
Although a traditional Iranian preparation, haleem has grown in popularity over the years. According to Mehboob Khan, a culinary master and an expert in Hyderabadi and Nawabi cuisine, haleem – though originating in Iran as harees – has been doing remarkably well here because it is prepared to suit the Indian palate. The spices (a special spice called kebab chini or cassia buds), indigenous ingredients, and the inherent style of preparation combine to craft the marvel called haleem.
In Hyderabad, if one wishes to really enjoy a good haleem experience, then one is well advised to visit the old city. Get experimental and abandon the sterile, comfortable, air-conditioned ambiance for the rustic, ecstatic, al fresco setting, where the options too are as many as one can reckon.
However, this ‘sell-out’ delicacy entails much tiresome toil and patience in its preparation and to develop the aroma that lures everyone to the joint. In order to make it soft, broken wheat is soaked in water hours before the groundwork. Then, the haleem furnace (made of red soil and bricks) is ignited. After that, adequate ghee (clarified butter) is poured into a heavy-bottomed pan or degchi, boned meat (potatoes for vegetarians) is added, followed by garlic, red chilli powder, salt, turmeric and garam masala. Finally, soaked wheat is added along with lentils (dals) and the cooking continues on medium temperature. The wheat, lentil and meat are beaten to a pulp and stirred, which goes on for hours, to absorb the masalas that lend it an irresistible aroma.
The customers are not merely Muslims. The situation is such that if one misses out on eating haleem during this time, he would regret the lost chance till the next Ramzan. This is because while haleem can be cooked at home, the pleasure and excitement of indulging in it with family and friends out in the open is undoubtedly the ultimate delight of the fascinating treat.
Film stars like Govinda and Sanjay Dutt and celebs from all walks of life are among the famous regulars who order specially-prepared haleem straight from Hyderabad. Pista House, one of the leading haleem outlets in the city, is the place where legendary actor Dilip Kumar gets haleem from for his Iftar party.