A Ramzan Food Walk Through Old Hyderabad
Image Credit: From the Deccan Archives Food Walk

THERE IS A BUZZ in the air; the streets have come alive with the sounds and laughter of people while crowds jostle to get a selfie or grab a bite. This is Ramzan in Hyderabad’s old city. With the 433-year-old Charminar as its beating heart, it comes alive during Ramzan, when families and friends, the young and the old, foodies and shopaholics, photographers and connoisseurs converge to soak in an experience that is uniquely Hyderabadi.

These heritage precincts are also home to hundreds of food joints, small and big, bandis and hotels, kiosks and thelas that sell a smattering of options, from sweet corn and chaat to patthar ka gosht and paya.

In a walk conducted by Deccan Archive and The Hyderabad Walking Company, a motley group sought out to sample the culinary delights in and around Charminar. Five highlights from the walk that lingered long after it concluded!

Tawakkal Naan: Hyderabad’s famous char koni naan, made in a traditional manner using a tandoor bhatti, once counted the Nizam of Hyderabad among its fans. While the roads of Purani Haveli are littered with establishments selling this indigenous bread (some dating back centuries), we stopped at the 10-year-old Tawakkal Naan, started by Mohammad Jaleel.

Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, char koni naan was traditionally a poor man's breakfast, with vegetarians pairing it with milk or tea, and non-vegetarians pairing it with a variety of traditional old-city dishes, including nihaari, paya and maraq. Baked fresh from the oven, the naan is a delicacy that is affordable, energising and filling.

Masha Allah: As we walk towards the Chatta Bazaar locality (the first bazaar in the market to have a roof, hence the name), we are greeted by rows and rows of printing shops. This is, after all, the printing hub of the city, where everything from traditional book binding to screen printing takes place. As we cross a kamaan (a traditional gate), we come to Masha Allah, a small establishment that (according to Sibghat of the Deccan Archives) sells some of the best shami kebabs in town.

This popular street delicacy is made from sauteed meat (beef or lamb) and chickpeas (chana dal) cooked with whole spices (garam masala, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves), whole ginger, whole garlic and salt until completely tender.

Soft, succulent, and extremely delicious, these bite-sized cutlets are usually paired with chai and are a time-honoured evening snack. Another bonus here is an old calligrapher who sits in a literal hole in the wall across the eatery; his beautiful penmanship speaks of the refinement of the past.

Sufiyan Sweets: A minor break as the kebabs settle down comes in the form of a 25-year-old streetcart, Sufiyan Sweets, that only sells two items: gulab jamun and kaddu ki kheer. A big local hit, a common sight is for people to come armed with steel tiffin boxes and take away their goodies to be relished in the confines of their home.

The kaddu ki kheer is extremely light and has a kulfi-like flavour. When asked why they only sell two items, the second-generation owner, Shahnawaz, smiles and says, “We have no time to make anything else. We make these sweets in the morning, open the stall in the late afternoon, and sell them out by late evening.”

Priced at the unheard rates of Rs 10 for a gulab jamun and Rs 20 for kheer, the place hits the sweet spot with people from all walks of life, from kids angling for a treat to a shopkeeper on an evening break or a food walk enthusiast who bombards the bewildered owner with questions!

Madina Hotel: A time-honoured Hyderabadi establishment, this hotel has been around since 1947 in different avatars. Recently renovated, this is a hotspot for families and those who come to Charminar for some shopping.

We stopped at Madina for the ubiquitous Hyderabadi Ramzan dish, haleem. Which place serves the best? This is a question that can trigger fights even among the closest of friends, so it’s safe to say that Madina serves one of the best versions in town. The stringy texture, the perfect balance between meat, wheat and spices, as well as its delightful flavour, all make it a hit with gourmands.

Hygiene is a hit and miss at the hotel, but yes, the taste of the dishes it serves overrides everything else.

Masha Allah: This is a different establishment with the same name in the winding lanes of Ghansi Bazaar near Charminar and is the final stop for the food walk. As midnight sets in, the teeming crowds do not reduce; instead, there is a heightened sense of excitement in the air.

This bite-sized eatery serves a killer marag soup. One of the most loved Hyderabadi dishes, marag, is a spicy mutton soup prepared with tender mutton attached to bones. It is basically a spicy and rich mutton stew, or a kind of soup, which goes perfectly well with naan or roti.

Flavoursome and fiery, the soup is an ideal way to end an evening of heavy eating.