Whenever I have gone to Hyderabad, particularly during the month of Ramzan (or Ramadan), one thing which always caught my fancy was Haleem. I had heard a lot about it but could never taste it. Reasons, one it is available only during these days and normally it is available during evenings only. One couldn’t have it because either you must be there in this holy month and even if you happen to be there, by the time you get over with your work, go to your hotel, have a shower and change, the restaurants would run out of it. It was during one of those visits to the biryani-famous Paradise last year that I had a luck of perfect timing and had it.
Before I move forward, hey wait a minute, what is this Haleem after all ?
Haleem is an Arabic dish, prominently famous in Hyderabad (Telengana). Simply put, it means in Urdu- Patient and merciful. Otherwise, it is a combination of Mutton, Wheat, Lentils, Barley and Spices. The pounded meat is added to a paste of coarsely ground Wheat, Dal Chana, Moong Dal and Barley with ground and whole spices and continuously stirred and mixed while cooking with ghee. Optionally, ginger, green chillies too are added by some. At the end, it comes out as a thick paste like consistency. The dish is a fine blend of protein and carbs and a whole meal in itself. It is normally served hot with garnishing of coriander leaves, caramelised onions and a lot of lemon juice poured over it. One can savour it as it is or with crispy chapati.
I still remember my first encounter with it in Paradise last year in Hyderabad. Was with friends, including a local. One quick spoonful in the mouth gave my palate an introduction with a paste full of flavours of mutton, onion, spices and lemon. That day, I ditched all my chapaties, rice, biryani, including my favourite nawabi chicken etc and settled only for Haleem.
However, at the end, was overloaded, enjoyed every bit of it, felt happy that I tried a new dish but was not verrry excited. Reason, I couldn’t understand myself. Maybe, I had more expectations? I discussed this with quite a few food loving friends but couldn’t get any answer. Some said they don’t relish this dish and some said they don’t eat it because it is full of calories. Then, a friend in Hyderabad told me that perhaps I was looking for an authentic dish and perhaps tasted its commercial version because Paradise is more famous for its biryani, though many may still don’t agree even with that. He suggested that if you want to taste authentic Haleem, try the Original Bawarchi ( there are many look alike versions of the restaurant all over Hyderabad) or the famous Pista House, both of them are in the old city, near Charminar. Now, one doesn’t have time and courage to wade through that thick traffic of Hyderabad in the evening hours and go towards the old city. So couldn’t have it so far.
Yesterday, was in Hyderabad for a few hours. Had a very important guest for lunch so decided to go to a five star famous for good food. Since the person with me was famous and a VIP, the chef came out of the kitchen to ask if we would have something of our choice or should he serve of his choice? Pat came the question if he could give us some Haleem. The answer was not instant but he hesitantly agreed. We did get it. Enjoyed it? Not fully. I could later understand his hitch because it could have been a dish brought together in haste, maybe some shortcuts. Well, it wasn’t bad after all.
The episode once again churned up my desire to taste a great version of Haleem. So, the resolute me, on my way to the airport, picked up takeaway versions of Haleem from Paradise and Pista House outlets (during this season, luckily, many outlets comeup of that original one from the old city). Alas, couldn’t pick up the Bawarchi one as there was no outlet on my way. Equipped with two packs of Haleem from two different brands made my family look at me with suspicion that have I gone mad or have become over greedy for good food? I couldn’t explain them the urge in me to try to find out which of the two was a better Haleem.
Well, few minutes in microwave, gave me two dishes full of the divine looking food. A shiny pale paste with hints of onions, nuts, ghee and spices. One looked slightly wheatish and the other one slightly reddish in colour. Both gave a great appearance and invitingly look. A spoonful of the first one, bursted flavours on the palate, though mild. The other one was divine. As against the paste, the texture of this one was slightly meaty. The first one had occasional hint of mutton fibres and the other one had good mix of fibres and occasional mutton chunks. The first one had quite a few bone chips coming in the mouth which one had to take out. The other one had a few bones with some meat still on it. Both had some whole spices coming in the mouth, such as cloves, black pepper and cinnamon. However, the second one had a slightly higher flavour of cinnamon and the ghee. Definitely, the second one was better, at least for me.
I thought, I am biased. So tried a blind test on my teenaged daughter. Made her taste a spoonful each of both the brands. Her vote also went for the second one. She said both tasted good but the second one is better. Although she couldn’t give me any reason but said that the other one worked better for her. This once again supported my belief that food is a subjective matter. What works for you may not be the case for the other (though in this case one particular brand worked better for both of us). The other one is not bad either, nor the one I had in the five star earlier in the day. They were good too but this one, to me, appeared to be better.
Therefore, I am not going to give out my preference for anyone brand here. Try out and find for yourself which one you like. Just one caution, it’s heavy. So, taste it and mind your portions.
Just before signing off, let me tell you that there is also a cousin of Haleem, known as Khichra (mind it, it’s not khichri). Will talk about it some other time. Till then, enjoy the divine flavours of Haleem, the food available during the holy month of Ramzan.