Express News Service
Hyderabad’s community plates are getting hotter to epicureans’ delight. And they are dropping their usual Sunday brunch routine and warming up to a smorgasbord of options. A Parsi Bhonu, Bohri Thal or a Kashmiri Wazwan meal … take your pick. Experiential travel companies such as Offbeat Tracks, apps such as AuthentiCook besides enthusiasts of cuisine cultures have started offering bookings for community lunches in the city of Nizams.
Says Vandana Vijay, the CEO and Founder of experiential travel portal Offbeat Tracks, “These are small, intimate home-style gatherings, not more than eight to 10 guests per meal. For example, on the last weekend of January, we organized a lunch hosted by a Bohri family in Kharkhana in Secunderabad. Unlike a walk-in or order-in meal, community meals are both personalized and pre-booked. Over lunch, the host families throw light on their community, origins and the cultural factors that influence their food. ” They will arrange Burmese meals too in future.
“It’s not potato. It’s not sweet potato. It’s a stationery. Don’t argue. All 1,20,000 Parsis cannot be wrong. ” This cute one-liner about Parsis is often used to drive home the point about the community’s distinct food culture. The twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad have a small community of about 1,000 Parsis. They love meat, eggs and potatoes. Their meat dishes have potatoes in the form of ‘sala’ (matchstick-fried potatoes, similar to French fries).
Catering to the fans of Parsi cuisine is Sonnu Irani from Sainikpuri, Secunderabad. She started hosting lunches during the pandemic in 2020 and restarted in January this year. The Dhansak, Patrani Machchi (fish steamed in a banana leaf with green chutney), Sali Marghi (chicken with potato strips), kababs, chicken / mutton pulav besides full roast chicken and pork are her specialities. Her lunches begin with Dhansak, and end with how the Chenoys were the first lot of Parsis who came to Secunderabad around 1803 and the story behind them earning titles such as ‘Khan Bahadur,’ ‘Khan Saheb,’ and ‘Nawab’. Irani serves tidbits of history of the community and cuisine.
The Saproos — Purnima and Anubhuti (daughter-in-law) —in Hyderabad’s Jubilee Hills brought along with them the taste of Kashmir when they left Srinagar during the mass exodus of Pandits in 1990s. They settled here when Purnima’s son got employed in a city firm. “Most Hyderabadis, who grow up eating their onion and garlic-rich cuisine, are astounded to know that Kashmiri cuisine is devoid of onion or garlic.
Not even in non-vegetarian food. I treat my guests to a thali meal comprising Rogan Josh (slow-cooked red meat delicacy), Mince Kheema (similar to the Hyderabad variety, but made of Kashmiri chilies), Yellow Paneer (cottage cheese in turmeric and milk gravy) and Palak Nadru (Spinach and lotus stem speciality) etc. ” The thali is served in stainless steel katoris with Basmati rice and naan. Although the Saproos started treating guests at home a year before the 2020 lockdown, with the third wave of the pandemic receding, they are looking forward to hosting an authentic Kashmiri Wazwan at their home. The cost is `1,500 per head for a mutton-based meal.
Lovers of Bohri food are pampered too. Khadija Kaukawala hosts at least three Bohri Thal lunches in a typical month. She occasionally threw such meals even before Covid struck. News spread through word of mouth about the Bohri biryani and fig halwa she would prepare. The trend has been growing among the 7,000-odd Bohra Muslims in the twin cities since July last year.
The Bohri cuisine is unique both in taste and culinary rituals. During a typical lunch session, Kaukawala greets her guests, seats them in her well-appointed carpeted drawing-room. A stainless-steel circular structure, known as tarana, becomes the make-shift dining table for this sit-down meal. A round stainless-steel plate big enough for four eaters is placed on the tarana. She offers them a welcome drink of lemon, jaggery and sabza (basil) seed in a khullad (earthen cups). “Few people are familiar with the Bohri culture here, so it is interesting to explain the nuances to them. For instance, our meals start and end by offering a pinch of salt to everyone. We believe that salt, just a pinch, of course, keeps 92 diseases at bay. It is also a good palate cleanser, ”says Kaukawala, who moved to Hyderabad from Kolkata along with her husband four years ago.
Bohris believe to begin with dessert since life is short. “We start our meal with kulfi,” she explains. Now come the mithaas (sweet) and kharaas (savory) in sequence. After the kulfi, arrive anjeer (fig) and badam (almond) halwa, kheema (minced meat) samosa for the non-vegetarians and dal na samosa for the vegetarians. Samosas here are served with a deep-fried green chilli or chutney and have a smoky flavor. Reason: each piece is heated on charcoal, infused with ghee.
To end the kharaas loop, there is boondi raita. The main course consists of Dal Puri, Mutton Nahari and Dal Chawal Palida. Palida is made using the water in which the lentil has been boiled. The rice is light, flavored with spring onion and toor dal. The Nahari is a refreshing departure from the popular spicy Hyderabadi variant.
For Hyderabadis who are loyal to their biryanis, you should be warned that the Bohri variety offered here has dried apricots and plums. Hope you are ready for all this and a lot more.