Hyderabadi Haleem Is An Emotion
Image Credit: Hyderabadi Haleem

You know it is Ramzan in Hyderabad when your popular neighbourhood Chindian (Chinese Indian, for the uninitiated) restaurant bucks the trend and starts selling haleem. The pop up kiosk is not inside the restaurant, but outside the restaurant with the typical trappings of a haleem-selling joint, which mushrooms overnight in the city during the holy month of Ramzan. Read: Plastic containers of different serving sizes (usually single, family and jumbo packs)a big degchi or vat of haleem to be refilled in humungous quantities, along with containers of the garnishes (fried onions, cashews or almonds, mint leaves and lemon wedges) and a couple of helpers to pack the haleem with both gusto and speed for customers who line up post the evening Namaaz.

This is the scene on any street in any locality of Hyderabad once its past 6 pm. Of course, now there are some eateries who have haleem on their menu around the year, but somehow it is the Ramzan haleem which is revered the most. Not only is haleem eating an evening pastime, there are activities around it, like haleem making and eating contests organised by restaurants.

This year, apart from the biggies of Pista House, Shah Ghouse, Paradise, Sarvi etc, the debutant which is trending is Subhan Bakery, of the century old legacy of Osmania cookies, Roat biscuits and its famed savouries like Chicken 65 puff etc. Owner Syed Irfaan shares that it was on the insistence of Subhan’s patrons that he decided to take the plunge in the haleem industry this year.

And the reception has been predictably phenomenal, he has been selling 2 tonnes of haleem daily and is already overwhelmed by the scale of orders and ensuing magnitude of operations. Some of the biggies are even known to sell upto 5-6 tonnes of haleem across their multi-outlets on a daily basis.

So, what is it about this rather bland-looking, brown-hued mass, with a gooey porridge consistency of pounded meat, cracked wheat, and spices, topped with a garnish of fried onions, mint leaves and lemon wedges which has an entire city going ga ga with foodies from neighbouring metros envying their Hyderabadi counterparts? Indeed, some food enthusiasts even mark out their weekends to come to Hyderabad to indulge in some haleem-hopping in and around Charminar as well as in the IT-areas which today boasts of every popular brand from Pista House to Shah Ghouse. Pista House, in fact through a tie-up with local courier services, flies haleem daily during Ramzan to Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Coimbatore.

According to M A Majeed, the founder-owner of Pista House, arguably, Hyderabad’s largest haleem seller, it is the traditional method of slow-cooking of Hyderabadi haleem on firewood, in a copper utensil called the ‘khallai, which seals the deal for haleem lovers. The entire cooking process takes upto 12 hours, the meat used should be goat meat and not beef or chicken, with only lab-tested pure ghee, as well as the highest-grade spices and condiments used. The broken wheat should be of the best Sharbati variety from Punjab. Cooking on a gas stove and in steel or aluminium pressure cookers, like many eateries in the city have started doing, apparently doesn’t do justice to the aromas released during the slow cooking, reiterates Majeed. Incidentally, the word haleem which is Arabic, means patient, forbearing and gentle, which are virtues extolled during Ramzan.

It is for this reason that Majeed and like-minded haleem makers got together to form the Hyderabad Haleem Makers Association and decided to apply for a GI (geographical indicator) tag for haleem. The association decided to apply for a GI status after the members came across dishes going by the name of Hyderabadi haleem in Old Delhi as well as in some areas of Mumbai, like Bhendi Bazaar, but which didn’t do justice to the taste of authentic Hyderabadi haleem

Hyderabadi haleem was accorded geographical indication (GI) status in the year 2010, the 132nd Indian product to get the tag, on the lines of Darjeeling tea, Banarasi silk, Goan feni, Mahabaleshwar strawberries, Pochampalli sari and the Tirupati laddoo.

During my first Ramzan season, I was amazed at the sheer magnitude of love Hyderabadis had for haleem during Ramzan. And this loe remains unabated, with innovations added every year to the haleem ritual, some adding hotpots (to be carried away as free gifts), Baahubali haleem (with kebabs and fried meats added as garnish) etc.

While it is tough to do a listing of the best haleem eateries, as the scope is enormous, here is my listing of both my favourite and popular around town haleem joints.

· Cafe 555 is one of the oldest and most popular Irani bakeries making haleem in the city. They are renowned for their Special Haleem, which has besides Chicken 65, boiled egg and the mandatory barista or fried onion, mint leaves, and l emon wedges a Zubaan (a full goat tongue) as a topping, certainly not for the faint-hearted!

· Pista House is the biggest haleem maker in town, hands down, thanks to their several outlets though their Shalibanda outlet near Charminar remains the most frequented. While classicists argue that Pista House is too commercialised and large to offer the authentic taste of haleem , numbers speak otherwise. Good supply logistics or taste, the verdict is out on this one.

· Shah Ghouse Cafe has outlets both in the old city areas of Charminar and Tolichowki as well as the newer localities like Gachibowli.

· Sarvi Bakery is one of my personal favourites for keepin its Iranian-style mutton haleem classic and free of gimmicks. An unpretentious Irani cafe in a lane in Banjara Hills, Sarvi has its loyal patrons who go nowhere else, some of them driving a distance to eat their haleem in the cafe, for the experience, even though the ambience is simple.

· Grill 9 is perhaps the only haleem player of reckoning in the area of Secunderabad. It is known for its Bahubali Haleem, which has a topping of Patthar ka Gosht, Chicken Tikka, Nalli, fried onions, boiled eggs, fresh cream and cashew and priced at Rs 999 which can be shared amongst 4 pax. No wonder it is a crowd-puller!

· Subhan Bakery, earlier renowned for its Osmania cookies, Roat and other delicious bakes and savouries, is already making waves as a debutant this year with its haleem and should be a big player soon, if it maintains this consistency. The aroma of the purest cow ghee assails your senses even before you have tried the haleem which is packed with meat and fine wheat rawa. Instead of the more common cashews, the Subhan haleem is topped with almonds and is delicious from the word go! Keeping with his competitively priced credo, a family pack of 1 kg haleem costs Rs 750 against the market price of Rs 999.

Happy Haleem-Hopping, Folks!