Be it the distinct aroma of the saffron flavoured 'biryani', the tender meat chunks in the steaming 'nihaari' or the frothy stew that is 'haleem', the cuisine of Hyderabad stands out for its ingenuity as it combines the best of local flavours with just the right pinch of Iranian, Turkish, and Mughal influences.
It comes as no surprise then that the city of Nizams has recently bagged the UNESCO title of "Creative City of Gastronomy".
Food historians, critics, and chefs across the country agreed that Hyderabad deserved the accolade not just for the varied range of dishes that it has to offer, but also for its use of home-grown ingredients and its cooking techniques.
The city boasts of the famous 'kacche gosht ki biryani' and its meat 'kormas', 'gosht ke kebab' cooked in cold curd, 'roti pe boti', 'sookha mutton', 'nihaari' and 'haleem' are equally popular. The Deccan city is a "melting pot of northern influences and southern flavours", said Delhi Taj Mahal Hotel's executive chef Arun Sundararaj.
Hyderabadi cuisine has borrowed from other culinary cultures like those of Mughals and evolved over the years with the use of local ingredients, added Sundararaj.
"The characteristic ingredients or spices of the cuisine include curry leaves, ginger, chilli, tamarind, and all local seasonal vegetables. "Compared to the curries in northern India, which are lighter and smoother due to the use of pistachios or cashew, Hyderabadi curries are heavier because they often use 'khus khus', coconut or peanuts," Sundararaj told PTI.
The Hyderabadi biryani, he said, is heavily influenced by Mughlai style of cooking and its recipe has been handed down through generations.
"It is spicier and flavourful in terms of its robustness", said the chef, who has worked with the Taj Falaknuma in Hyderabad for four years.
Unique to Hyderabad is also the much revered "mirch ka saalan" that is served along with the Hyderabadi biryani. The city's cuisine is extremely "evolved and intensive in taste", said Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels and Welcomhotel, Manish Bhasin.
She said the Hyderabadi blend of spices cannot be found anywhere else in India. Besides elementary spices like ginger and tamarind, what renders the cuisine its unique flavour are ingredients like 'ambada', a sour leafy plant sorrel, dry roasted coconut, and saffron. Hyderabad's very own 'potli ka masala' is almost a game-changer.
"It is made with sophistication and found nowhere else other than Hyderabad. They dry roast the spices and then grind it. Not only sophisticated, it requires a lot of time too," Delhi-based food historian Salma Husain told PTI.
'Potli ka Masala' is made by mixing 20 or more herbs and spices like sandalwood powder, dried rose petals, roots of the betel plant, and stone flowers. Tied in a muslin cloth, the bundle is then tossed into the saucepan, adding a motley of fragrances into the curry.
Hyderabad also has an array of vegetarian dishes to offer and some of them are the 'bagara baigan', 'dum ka paneer' and 'bhindi curry.' "Bagara Baigan is very much typical of Hyderabad. You don't get it anywhere else.They don't use much of Kewra and all that, they have Saffron in it. And other foods in the country use nuts in it, Hyderabadi cuisine doesn't have nuts in it to make their food exotic. They have saffron yet their food feels exotic in taste," said Husain.