Flavours from the Streets of Hyderabad
India is a land of multifarious cultural expressions. Its geographical variation is reflected in the diverse gastronomic map across the country. The presence of street food has been a vital aspect of Indian urban spaces for a long period. Today, street food is an attractive sight in almost every city of our country. In recent times, street food as a popular culture reflects the interplay of local and foreign culinary expressions. The historical city of Hyderabad is no exception in this regard.
The present city of Hyderabad was founded by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth sultan of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in 1591 CE. It was built around the monument of Charminar that still recalls the glorious past of Hyderabad. The area around the Charminar is one of the most crowded places in the city, full of life and activities. Today, it’s not only a place of tourist attraction but also a repository of rich cultural heritage. Hyderabad was also ruled by the Mughals during 1687- 1724 just before the reign of the Nizams. The state of Hyderabad was one of the largest princely states in India under the Nizams from 1724-1948. It finally became a part of Independent India after signing the Instrument of Accession. It used to be the capital of Andhra Pradesh until the state of Telangana was formed in 2014. Currently, Hyderabad is the capital city of Telangana as well as the de jure capital of Andhra Pradesh for a temporary period.
The gastronomic map of Hyderabad reflects the influence of several powerful dynasties, viz. the Qutb Shahis, the Mughals and the Nizams. The city continues to celebrate its diverse cultural identities introduced by different communities. This diversity is represented through the variety of foods available in and around its streets. Interestingly, the Royal flag of the Nizams contains the picture of a Kulcha offered as a blessing by Saint Nizamuddin Aulia. The selection of Hyderabad as the “UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy” is another reflection of its myriad culinary expressions. The Hyderabadi Biryani, widely famous across India, is inevitably an asset to the culinary heritage of the city. It is prepared using kutchi (raw) rice and kutchi meat together, along with a mixture of exotic spices.
The area around the Charminar provides a great scope to explore the rich variety of street foods available in the city. It vividly reflects the culinary influence of ruling dynasties that had their roots in the Middle East. Munshi Naan, Al-Akbar Fast Food Corner, Shah Ghouse, Mashallah Ghawa, Hotel Shahran and Shadaab Hotel serve some delicious Sheekh Kebabs, Keema Khatta, Tandoori Chicken, Paya, Rumali Roti, Warqi Parathas and several meaty delights. Munshi Naan, famous for its Mughlai food, has already completed 167 years in Charminar. Paya is a traditional dish mostly prepared on special occasions to be served to guests. It’s made with the trotters or hoofs of beef, goat, buffalo, or sheep and cooked with exotic spices. Hyderabadi Haleem is widely favoured in Charminar. It’s a slow-cooked meat stew of Arabic origin. It’s loaded with lentils, mutton and pounded wheat. Haleem was once considered a protein shake for the Nawabs. Nihari is another stew that contains slow-cooked mutton or chicken, and shank meat (the portion around the tibia of an animal). The word Nihari originates from the Arabic word Nahar, meaning ‘morning’. Ghawa is a popular drink prepared by brewing coffee in rose water with saffron and cardamom. Charminar is exclusive for Maharashtrian Wada Pav, Batata Wada (fried potato balls dipped in besan), Tarri Pohe (Pohe with Nagpuri style chana-based gravy on it) and Misal Pav (a spicy curry made of moth beans and Pav). The Kesar Pista Lassi of Agra Mithai Ghar is exceptionally delightful, while the Jalebi and Imartis seem mouthwatering. Imarti is known as Jahangiri here. Nimrah Bakery is a popular destination at Charminar for its famous Irani Chai and Osmania Biscuits.
Gachibowli, a suburb of Hyderabad has lines of fast-food outlets that usually serve from the evening onwards. DLF Street, a popular hangout point of this area, is regularly crowded with fast-food lovers. Shawarma and Kebabs are the most preferred items here. The outlets also serve some delicious Veggie and Fish Fries, Burgers, Egg Bhurji, Steamed Momos, Fried and Juicy Maggi and several South Indian dishes. Sardarji’s Traditional Punjabi Palate is famous across Gachibowli for its mouthwatering Punjabi food. The special Matka Chai also attracts tea lovers for its earthy flavour. This street is also popular for its juice and ice cream stalls.
Ram Ki Bandi, a well-known stall at Begum Bazar is exceptional for its post-midnight services. It serves delicious South Indian food including Butter Idli, Tawa Idli, Cheese Dosa and Cheese Upma. Ram Ki Bandi’s specialty is Teenmaar- a combination of cheese, butter and paneer. Night shift workers enjoy the finger-licking dishes here after 3 am on a regular basis. The street food stalls across the city offer some common snack items: Samosas, Kachoris, Mirchi Bhajis, Pav Bhaji, Potato Chips and Bread Pakodas. The people of Hyderabad also add a variety of chaat items to their diet. Some of these items include Dahi Puri (similar to Pani Puri), Masala Puri, Bhel Puri, Ragda Pattice (similar to Chholetikki, a North Indian dish of mashed potato and gravy), Dahi Bhalla (Dahi Wade), Papdi Chaat and Maharaja Chaat. These items are quickly preparable by mixing Sev, onion, tomato, chili powder, green peas, coriander leaves and a variety of spices.
The current exploration would be incomplete without mentioning the street foods of Secunderabad. This city, established as a British Cantonment in 1806, is the twin city of Hyderabad. Secunderabad is well known for its Anglo-Indian cuisines. Dhansak is one such dish that originated among the Parsi Zoroastrian community. It is made by cooking goat meat with a mixture of lentils and vegetables. Secunderabad is also unique for its wide variety of confectioneries. The street stalls across the city offer some mouthwatering dishes: Dabelis (an indigenous version of a sandwich filled with spicy potatoes, garnished and served with peanuts and a variety of chutneys), Pesarattu (a crepe dish made of green gram), Dhokla, Dosa and different types of Samosas including Noodles Samosa, Paneer Samosa and Pasta Samosa. It also has several Chinese fast-food outlets. Meanwhile, the area around Tank Bund is popular for its chaat stalls. These serve a mixture of Murmura, Chana and Peanuts, along with a lot of spices. Tank Bund, also called Hussain Sagar, is a 16th-century lake that separates the twin cities.
The street food of Hyderabad also includes a variety of luscious sweets. Jauzi Halwa (labelled as the Nizam’s favourite sweet), Badam Halwa, Phirni (a classic creamy sweet pudding made with powdered rice, milk, almonds, saffron and cardamom), Faluda, Junnu (a simple milk pudding), Mauz Ka Meetha (a banana dessert) are some loved items across the city. Faluda is made of shredded vermicelli noodles with rose syrup and milk, while a special spice called Jauz is used to add a unique flavour to the Jauzi Halwa. Qubani Ka Meetha, made from dried apricots, is a common dessert of Hyderabad.
The changing patterns of everyday life in the times of globalization have influenced the eating habits of people worldwide. The variety of dishes from the streets of Hyderabad reflects this interaction and cultural exchange among different communities. It will continue to influence its vibrant food culture in years to come.