Saturday, September 10, 2011

From the city of Nawabs, with Biryanis!

If there's one city in India that I love to visit, over and over again, that's Hyderabad.
This is one city which has shown how consistent investments in infrastructure can transform the very feel of a place.
I flew in into Hyderabad this morning. As always the city's swank new airport (it is not new anymore - opened in 2008, but it still retains its freshness) is as welcoming as ever.
The drive to the city is smooth, a good 40 kilometers were covered in less than an hour. In Bombay, such a long drive would be endless, and would be sufficient to give a normal person acute hypertension. The 18 kilometer long PV Narasimha Rao flyover is a real treat, significantly cutting down travel time. The naming of the flyover could not be better, it's such a brilliant tribute to the man of will, the architect of reforms, the man who envisioned an economically strong and resurgent India. Sadly, his invaluable. contribution has not been regarded as worthy of honour in the rest of India.
Hyderabad for long had shown India the way. Timely investments in much needed infrastructure helped Hyderabad steal a march over Bangalore, in attracting infotech talent, as Bangalore got increasingly unliveable by the mid-1990s. The hands-on Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu and a friendly centre headed by Mr. Vajpayee helped the city evolve this vision. I just hope the Telengana strife doesn't affect the city adversely in the long run.
After the meetings got over, it was time to head back to Hyderabad Airport, but not before picking up a few biryanis for home.
Now the biryani is the perfect example of how India has become richer with foreign influences, over centuries. The biryani is a Persian dish evolved over the ages, primarily as a convenient and nutritious dish, of rice and meat, concocted to feed armies at the end of a daylong battle.
Brought to India by medieval Persian invaders, the dish evolved into nearly 20 or so variants in Indian sub-continent. So today, you have biryanis in Calcutta, Kerala, Burma, Lucknow, Sri Lanka and many other places. But undoubtedly the best known of all these versions is the Hyderabadi biryani. The Hyderabadi biryani is moderately spiced, with barely few traces of oil, yet is an explosion of flavours. The secret of that lies in patiently cooking the meat and rice, in layers, over extended periods of time, over low heat. The flavour of the tenderising meat is absorbed by the aromatic basmati rice gradually, the seal of dough between the vessel and the lid keeps the flavours inside and intact for long, while the hot vapours from the meat cooks the dish.
The result is magical - the melange of subtle flavours that the Hyderabadi biryani has to offer is bound to spin you off into a heavenly orbit of absolute bliss.

I was first introduced to the biryani in 1988 at a joint called Biryani Story at Hauz Khas, New Delhi's Aurobindo Place shopping centre. But I never knew what a true biryani was till I had a Hyderabadi biryani which was much later in 2006!
We passed by a takeaway outlet of Paradise, a chain specialising in Hyderabadi delicacies. My wishlist was long - vegetable biryani for Neeti (that's one of her favorite dishes) and a whole lot for myself - mutton biryani, haleem and bagare baingan!
Now the Paradise takeaway was faster than McDonald's, which was impressive. But unfortunately, they did not have haleem and bagare baingan. The biryanis came along with mirchi ka salan, the look of it was not too impressive at all, afterall Neeti does an exceptionally good job with the dish at home!
Haleem is a thick broth of mince meat and cracked wheat, slow cooked in stock turning it into a sticky consistency and then tempered with onions and spices. This meaty broth is comforting on a cold winter day. Bagare baingan are fried baby aubergines cooked in a spicy-sour gravy made of coconut and groundnut.
So I had to buy just two biryanis - mutton and vegetable which I am gleefully carrying back home like well deserved treasures. I just cannot wait till evening to dig in to the heavenly biryanis, blissfully like a Hyderabadi Nawab!

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