Apart from biryani, if Hyderabad is known for any one dish, that probably is Haleem. And if we talk about Haleem, there lies the story of a cultural tie between the Nizams if Hyderabad and Yemen. I’ll try to share those stories and the royal Nizami food in Hyderabad.

Hyderabad was a food trip for me and Sabyasachi da helped me immensely for the same- both for the planning and taking me around. But when I was asking about the royal food of Hyderabad, he suggested just one place and that is Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad run by the renowned chef Pradeep Khosla and located at posh Banjara Hills area. And once the meal was over, I could understand the reason.

Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad one of those typical posh suave restaurants. And the best part is, it’s flooded with natural sunlight, making it a photographer’s delight. A table was reserved adjacent to the window and Sabyasachi da was chatting with the chef when I reached. Now the concept for Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad needs to be discussed here.

The food here is from the royal kitchens of Nizams. And though it’s inspired by the Moghul food, is different. Then the Moghuls got themselves settled in Hyderabad, they couldn’t get their original spices, neither they could adjust their palate with the spicy Telugu food. Moghuls are not really known to be a lover for spicy food. So, what they did was, they substituted the spices with aroma- introduced the use of green chilly and paved the way for Hyderabadi food.

In short, we can safely say, Hyderabadi food is more aromatic than spicy … – said chef Pradeep Khosla

About Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad
Chef Pradeep Khosla had designed a sampling menu for us and we were guests on that day. The first dish that we tasted at Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad was Maraq. Now Marag is a meaty soupy dish, said to be originated from Somalia. It’s extremely subtle in taste and creamy in nature. I was told, that it’s flavored with pistachio, owing to the consistency. Now, here comes the question that how did this travel to the royal kitchen of Nawabs?

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During the Asaf Jahi dynasty or the Nizams, a good percentage of the Nizami soldiers were from Arab and Yemen. And as we know, food travels with people, there is a good influence of Sudani/ Yemeni food in Hyderabad. This dish, I was told, can be enjoyed as a soup or with sheermal. The bread needs to be broken into pieces and dipped- the result is ecstasy.

The second dish at Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad, had to be the Haleem. And this haleem is vastly different from what we’re used to getting in Kolkata. It’s more of a gooey consistency with meat chunks. I’ve tasted the harissa in Kashmir, which is almost the same thing- but the primary difference between Kolkata and Hyderabad Haleem is, in Hyderabadi Haleem, there is no Dal. the primary ingredients are wheat, meat, and ghee. Meat is pounded till a consistency, where you don’t understand whether you’re having meat or wheat. The ideal ratio is 4 parts of meat with 1 part of wheat and that explains…

The next dish that came was the showstopper. It was Shikampuri Kebab at Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad. For those, who have not tasted, it’s shami kebab with a feeling of flavored hung curd. Now the difference between this one here and other places is that here they pound the meat and do not grind the meat. The result is, you can actually feel the meat threads in the mouth. Unlike the Lucknow version which was done for a toothless Nawab, here you can actually feel the meat, but the beauty is, that it’s still a paste. The dish was the showstopper of the day, for me at least.

Shikampuri Kebab
Marinated meat (with very less green spices from Hyderabad) is put on a hot porous stone. when meat is put on the stone, it oozes juice and comes back in the form of steam from the stone with the flavor of meat and the stone. Basting with butter gives the brown color and it’s a dry tasty piece of meat with an earthy aroma. Tala Hua Gosht is sort of stir-fried mutton and is spicy.

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But I got the best Pathar Ke Gosht in another place in Hyderabad, but you’ll have to scroll down for the same.

Barkati was served to us with Kulcha. It’s a lesser-known dish from the royal kitchen of Hyderabad. Meat is cooked with sliced onion, ginger, and garlic with a heavy dose of tomato. But taste-wise, it’s more towards somewhere in between Kossha Mangso and Mangser Jhol. Honestly, I was craving for some steamed rice for the same, but I was getting full …

And finally, the Biryani
But how could a meal in Hyderabad be complete without some Biryani? And, biryani came for us at Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad.

Hyderabadi biryani has raw meat layered with rice cooked in 3 stages. And as per the layer, they’re distributed. Some mint leaves are thrown in and use of a heavy masala/ spice is noticed. The biryani is distinctly different from the aroma of meat. Hence the choice of meat is of primary importance. Contrary to the popular belief, a Hyderabadi Biryani is not fiery or spicy. On the other hand, it’s supposed to be subtle and with a proper balance of flavors.

Our meal was coming to an end with the dessert was Badam Kund. Though it was a brilliant Halwa stuffed with dry fruits, But the meat lover inside me was still longing for another round of meat. The problem was, I was full. But let me be honest, now after all these food adventures, I’ve started to understand the tip of Hyderabadi cuisine and that was my take home.

Pathar Ke gosht of Bade Miyan
Sometimes back, I told that I’ve tasted the best Pathar Ke Gosht (in my short stint) at another place other than Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad. And now, let me talk of that. Adjacent to the Tank Bund road and with a view of the Buddha status, lies this humble shop- Bade Miyan. And if the topic Pathar Ke Gosht comes up, locals swear by the name. They have a pretty decent non-Ac outdoor sitting area. The menu had a few varieties of Kebab and some Chinese items. I didn’t taste them, so can’t really comment on the quality. Getting focused is the keyword of my existence and confidently, I ordered for the Pathar Ke Gosht along with a Roomali Roti.

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It is said that during the late 19th century, Nawab Nizam Asaf Jahi VI went on a hunting trip and somehow his cooks forgot to take the required skewers. But Kebabs were asked by the nawab and cooks somehow cooked them on a hot stone, with fire from below. This dish, with the typical aroma from stone, got so popular that it got a place in the regular kitchens.

They had the hot porous stone ready and as soon as the order is placed, meat pieces are placed on that. Waiters doubled up as the cook for this particular dish. But how ridiculous it may sound, it didn’t really affect the taste.

The Pathar Ke Gosht at Bade Miyan was not really visually pleasing. But one piece inside your mouth and you start understanding why it’s famous. It had the taste of meat and very very fewer spices. The strange earthy aroma was almost intoxicating. The waiter, Omar, told me to put a few pieces inside the roomali roti and have it as a role. And I am good at taking orders. the dish was simply sexy and something definitely not to be missed on a trip to Hyderabad… I didn’t even check the chutney, such as the taste.

My Hyderabad trip was coming to an end and I must say, this trip taught me on the Hyderabadi cuisine which is much beyond Biryani. There is Telugu food, a varied breakfast spread, royal Nizami Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad and obviously the Biryani and Mandi. I am sure that I’ve missed many hidden food joints in the city and definitely I’ll come back for more. #KhabarLive #hydnews

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A senior journalist having 25 years of experience in national and international publications and media houses across the globe in various positions. A multi-lingual personality with desk multi-tasking skills. He belongs to Hyderabad in India. Ahssanuddin's work is driven by his desire to create clarity, connection, and a shared sense of purpose through the power of the written word. His background as an writer informs his approach to writing. Years of analyzing text and building news means that adapting to a reporting voice, tone, and unique needs comes as second nature.