By Karina Acharya
Since the month of Ramadan has officially begun, we thought we’d bring you a Haleem Series. Now for those of you who don’t know what Haleem is, it’s basically meat (mostly goat meat) cooked for approximately eight hours along with lentils, wheat, spices, dry fruits and a concoction of mutton stew and clarified butter or ghee and it’s eaten during the month of Ramadan. Overall, is quite a robust dish, which is why it was essentially meant for soldiers. But after enduring the twists and turns of history, it has now reached the status of being an annual delicacy.
So the first place we headed to was Pista House. Now they have branches all over the city and the country but that wasn’t enough. Being the largest Haleem seller in the world, Pista house has tantalized so many taste buds that the demands starting coming in Internationally. Other countries also wanted a taste of this delicacy and so Pista house did just that. “We just started a branch in California and people are waiting in a two-hour line to get some of our Haleem”, Mohammed Abdul Mohsi, director of Pista house proudly explains.
It’s normally served with toppings of fried onions, mint leaves and lime. It’s a perfect marriage of flavors because the fried onions are crispy which gives the dish texture and the lime and mint leaves cut through all the rich flavors of the Haleem with their freshness. There is so much flavor, yet there something so subtle and comfortingly familiar about it. It has just the right amount of kick and it isn’t a tongue-numbing spicy and neither is it bland and boring. You can tell it’s freshly made because of how hot it is and the quantity is just right.
Our next Haleem stop is 4 Seasons. As it turns out, 4 seasons serves something called Special Nawabi Haleem. Nawabi Haleem defers from regular Haleem simply because the garnish is served separately and it’s assembled on the table for you.
The ambiance was good and make you feel quite Nawabi. The garnish is the regular mixture, but there was an addition of cashews. It definitely adds to the richness but still manages to get all the flavor through subtly. In this particular bowl of Haleem, I found the flavor of the spices to be distinctive, especially the flavor of cinnamon which added a beautiful sweetness. Again, a gorgeous assemblage of flavors with the sweetness of the cinnamon, the richness of the ghee and cashews and the kick of the spices. And to balance everything, we get hit with the freshness of the mint leaves and lime.
Next we head across the road the road to a place called Shah Ghouse. This place was so crowded I could barely make it to the counter. But that’s always a good sign isn’t it? There wasn’t any place to sit but part of a holistic Haleem experience is to eat while standing with your friends on the side of the road amidst all the hustle and bustle. And we did just that. From the very first bite, the most prominent flavor I could taste was that of the meat. I found that to be amazing because Haleem is a dish that has a lot to it and many times, the actual flavor of the meet is lost out on but at Shah Ghouse, despite all of the other strong flavors, they still managed to maintain that beautiful subtle taste of the meat. In addition, there was an after taste of this charcoal like heat, which might sound strange weird, but trust me, they really do make it work. There was a bit of extra spice but I really don’t mind that and after all, this is Hyderabad and spice is in our blood. I suggest going to Shah Ghouse with friends to get an authentic Hyderabadi Haleem experience.
Our Next stop was 555 or also known as Triple 5. This Haleem is so popular in Hyderabad that an entire lane needs to be blocked for parking. Getting a plate of Haleeem here is like the Hunger games but again, that’s a good sign because it’s worth it.
555 Serves Irani Haleem. Now Irani Haleem stands out because of its unique blend of spices. It was absolutely nothing like what I had tasted previously. Most of the familiar elements of Haleem were obviously there, but there but at the same time there was this tangy, zesty, beautiful kick that I got with each bite. I could taste the flavors of elaichi or cardamom prominently and that flavor adds the Irani profile to this Haleem. It’s never a bad thing to get creative and innovative and 555 did a pretty good job of that because on the Menu, I saw Chicken 65 Haleem. Now honestly, I think this is ingenious because Chicken 65 has always been a local favorite and topping Haleem with it is seriously a dream come true. What I love about this place is it represents it’s Irani Heritage and yet finds ways to adapt to the local palate making it one of Hyderabad’s favourites. I one hundred percent recommend it.
For our final destination for Part 1 of the Haleem series, we headed to Cafe Bahar. The famous Cafe Bahar was started in 1973 by Syed HussainBolooki. It started off as a small tea stall and provisional store. They slowly started to expand by incorporating Hyderabadi cuisine in their menu after which they expanded to a restaurant.
Their specialty is their Biryani but their Haleem isn’t far behind either. “We still use my father''s traditional Haleem recipe” Enthusiastically claims Syed Ali AsgharBolooki, Son of Syed HussainBolooki and Managing Director of Cafe Bahar and Restaurant.
While waiting for our haleem, Bolooki tells us about the origin of this delicacy. He says that Haleem was originally an Irani dish and that back then, it used to be a sweet dish because the meat was cooked with Jaggery in additon to wheat and lentils. However, after coming to Hyderabad, it had to adapt to the local palate and as a result, a smart business strategy and local delicacy was born. Bolooki also tells us that the reason such rich and fibrous ingredients are used is because people who are fasting during Ramadan need to regain their energy. Our Haleem finally arrived and even after previously having consumed 4 plates of Haleem, we can’t wait to dig in.
If I had to describe Cafe Bahar Haleem in one word, I would say humble. It might sound cliche but you can literally taste the tradition. There’s always something special about recipes that have been passed down along generations and this is, without a doubt one of those recipes. It was simple but beautiful and as soon as you take a bite, you can taste the lentils. I would say that out of all the Haleem we ate that day, this was the most subtle.
Bolooki also told us that Haleem is best eaten with hot Tea or Pepsi but definitely not with water because if you consume water after eating Haleem, it could solidify in your stomach. Which is why at Cafe Bahar, they offer free Pepsi along with Haleem for an extremely reasonable price. But what made the entire Cafe Bahar experience unforgettable is the sheer generosity that Bolooki showed us, even giving us Haleem to take home to our families. I think this is part of the reason I believe in the power of food so much. It brings out the good in people and while being on a quest for good food, it’s impossible not to encounter kind-hearted people. That’s why I fully mean it when I say food brings us together.