You pray, you fast, you feast and you celebrate, all the while spreading a positive vibe around – that’s Ramadan or as popularly known, Ramzan. The holy month seeps you in and fills you with a sense of contentment. Not only does it lifts up your spirits but it also gives foodies like me an excuse to gorge on the delicacies specially available during this blessed time. In the two years in Hyderabad, I have witnessed a beautiful version of this special occasion.
There was a time, when in the wee hours of the morning, Sehriwalas will begin their musical journey around the localities to wake up people for the Sehri. Now, it’s a rare sight, and households rely mostly on their alarm clocks to ensure they do not miss the morning ritual timings. If you are in the old city of Hyderabad, you would see faith combined with merriment as early as 3:30 am in the morning. Huge gatherings for prayer, and the delicious meal before beginning the day-long fast, are how Suhoor unfolds. You may not be a observing a Ramadan fast, but a taste of these special dishes in the early morning is an experience on its own. Before any other food, a date is how you begin your mea, be it Sehri or Iftar (the meal at dusk). You would mostly find the stalls in Muslim localities, for instance the stalls near the Madina building. The evenings are more crowded and one has to plan ahead to reach the destinations on time.
The streets buzz with numerous food variations. In the morning, you would find the all-time popular Khajla or crisp poori, that you would mostly see people eating with milk and sugar. You would find parathas with various stuffing, from aloo, gobi, to keema, and even plain. My favorite has always been near the Charminar area. The best way to explore it is on foot.What’s really a must-try during this time is the hot Paya, a spiced-up soupy curry made out of the hoovs of goat, with either rice or butter naans. Personally, I am a fan of the white grain with paaya. Mutton being the most highlighted meat during the month, you would find bheja fry, and to add to the nutrition, there’s the cereal-based mutton dish, daalcha. If you are not really in the mood to explore, try Shadab Hotel’s morning Sehri menu. Cut fruits, roohafzaora range of kheer, from thin vermecilli kheer to bottle gourd kheer, are what makes a meal complete.
The streets are also filled with stalls offering you an assortment of kebabs, especially during the evening at the time of Iftar. The evening menu is more on the heavy side. The most popular is haleem, a wheat-and-meat-based dish, which is a meal on its own, be it chicken, mutton or beef (not too common). I have always liked the Irani haleem as it’s got the perfect balance of spice and meat. And the best ones that I have come across till date are Irani mutton haleem of Point Pleasant in Banjara Hill Road no. 10 or the Special Irani Haleem you find at The Grill Box of Building 20 of RahejaMindspace. If you go by popularity, Pista house’s haleem outscores anyone else’s. Then there’s the Biriyani from Bawarchi in RTC X Road. In all, the meat lovers are always spoilt for choice during this time. One must try the signature Ramzan kebabs like the Shaami Kebab or special meaty preparation like Pathar Ka Ghost (mutton cooked on a heated stone base).
The buzz of the place is not just with local vendors, but there are vendors who travel from far away lands to run their legacy stalls. During one of my visits to Charminar recently, I came across one such street vendor with a small stall right opposite to Pista House. He has been coming over to Hyderabad for the last 20 years to sell some niche dishes during Ramzan. He may have been on the street but the well-packaged items kept the hygiene in check. He brings a delicious limited stock of Double Ka Meetha (a bread-based rich sweet dish), Kakri ka raita (Cucumber in curd with other spices) and Qubani ka meetha (an apricot-based dessert), all neatly stacked in lidded small plastic bowls, along with glasses of badam milk.
And then there are others, who come up with their special recipes to mark the auspicious event. On the same street, there’s a man selling a flavorful thick milky concoction, that he calls Ghawa, a special Ramzan recipe. Do not go by the traditional recipe of Ghawa, as this man has got a completely different take on it. In a huge cauldron of milk, he mixes sounth powder, coffee beans, wait for it… tea leaves, saffron, dates and sugar, a unique set of ingredients that makes this hot drink extremely flavorful. And then he boils the milk till it thickens. He comes with his stall around 7 pm and within a span of two to three hours, his special Ghawa gets sipped to the last drop by all around the area. And considering the evening crowd being almost too dense, it definitely works in his favor.
Hyderabad has always been great at celebrations and Eid-ul-Fitr is one auspicious occasion that it waits to rejoice at the end of this Ramadan. The day witnesses families coming together for the first day-time meal after the month-long daylight fast.It is a way of showing gratitude towards God for all his blessings and the strength he bestows to keep everyone healthy in body and mind. It is the time for merriment, feast and gifts, over all a momentto be happy and spread happiness. So, next time make sure to plan a trip to Hyderabad in Ramzan to enjoy something extra than what the beautiful Hyderabad and its luscious food culture have to offer. As India awaits the sight of the first crescent moon, I wish each of you a very Happy Eid-ul-Fitr in advance.