(I love the use of alliteration in titles. It excites me to no extent.)
My Christmas weekend was fun, albeit different this year. I spent it eating heap loads of biryani, exploring the uncharted territory of Andhra cuisine, standing in lines trying to get into tourist destinations, ogling at the opulent lifestyle of the Nizams, and enjoying the chaotic madness the city of Hyderabad has to offer. Most importantly I spent Christmas weekend spending quality time with my folks. And that’s all that really matters. Here are the highlights from my quick trip to the Nizam’s city –
Charminar + Makkah Masjid + Lad Bazaar
Four minarets towering high over a cacophonous marketplace – the Charminar is symbolic to Hyderabad. It is an enthralling experience when the Charminar reveals itself to you, hiding in the midst of this chaotic street. Sadly we didn’t have the energy to wait through the serpentine queues to enter, and missed the birds eye view from the Charminar. The Makkah Masjid that sits adjoining the Charminar is one of the largest mosques in the country and is worth a visit. What I enjoyed seeing the most was the presence of a Laxmi temple right under the Charminar, and when we visited the chants of aarti and azaan intermingled in the air, giving me hope for a future filled with religious respect and tolerance. The Laad Bazaar bangles must be on your shopping list for the sheer variety and design, but don’t forget to sharpen your bargaining skills!
If there is a dish synonymous with the city of Hyderabad, it is the Biryani. This is a variant of kacchi biryani – which means the meat, spices and rice are slow cooked together in adum ensuring the meaty flavours get entrapped in the rice. I am not a fan of dum biryani personally, and I enjoy the masala laden Bombay biryani more but I gobbled up heaploads of biryani served with salan and raita, this entire trip. I loved the biryani at Shadab Hotel and Sarvi more than the overhyped Paradise version.
The official residence of the ruling Nizam of Hyderabad, the Chowmahalla palace is grand, opulent and makes you travel back in time. Literally meaning four palaces, walk around the immaculate palace grounds, and spend some time in the resplendent darbar hall. Complete with marble, intricate carvings on the wall, and crystal chandeliers this is luxury in the real sense! I also spent some time checking out the Nizam’s impressive, vintage car collection. Don’t forget to sync your watch with the time shown on the Clock tower – that has been ticking away ever since the palace was built. What we enjoyed the most was the photo booth where you can dress up like the Nizam and Begum and get an old school photo of yourself clicked.
You have to try a traditional Andhra thali when you’re in the state. Everyone harps about Hyderabadi biryani, but sadly the less popular sibling is forgotten. Spicy, meat laden, curry dominated, and full of flavour – the thali was my favourite meal of the trip. You can try Andhra food at restaurants like Rayalaseema Ruchulu, Sri Kanya hotel, Kakatiya mess – all recommended by readers. I tried some pretty crazy curries at the former; Naatu Kodi Pulusu – a spicy, desi chicken curry; Gongura Mamsam – mutton curry simmered with gongura leaves; and the absolutely crazy Talakaya Mamsam – goat head curry. While in Hyderabad, don’t forget to buy some local gongura leaves, and spicy guntur chilles to get home as food souvenirs – these form an integral part of Andhra cuisine.
Hyderabad is home to the largest one man art collection in the world, and it is housed in the Salarjung museum. Wear your walking shoes, eat a heavy breakfast and reach really early to avoid the serpentine lines – trust me it’ll all be worth it. The museum is divided among three different buildings housing Indian, Eastern and Western artefacts.
Highlights of my visit include seeing the Double statue – carved as the male Mephistopheles in the front, and lady Margaretta at the back. Also the beauty of the Veiled Rebecca is breathtaking – a statue of Rebecca in a veil carved out of a single block of marble. (You can take a virtual tour and see the Veiled Rebecca statue here.) Another star attraction is Sir SalarJung’s musical clock where a miniature toy figure comes out of the clock striking a gong as many times as it is the hours of the day.
Biscuits + Irani Chai
No one leaves Hyderabad without carrying back home a mandatory box of fruit biscuits from Karachi bakery. But what I personally really enjoy eating are the Osmania biscuits – sweet, salty, and crumbly. Also try the Chaand or moon biscuits dipped in milky sweet Irani chai. We had a lovely cup of tea accompanied with biscuits at Nimrah cafe – a tiny bakery bang opposite the Charminar. Don’t forget to buy a box, or ten for your friends back home.
Because we reached the fort late we couldn’t take a tour of the entire, sprawling property but we got a glimpse of the fort during the daily sound and light show. It gave us a huge insight into the fort’s history and significance.
Do you know that the fort was home to the world famous Kohinoor diamond? The outer diameter of the fort’s wall is 10kms, and actually consists of four different forts within. I’d love to return back when I have more time on my hands, (and there are lesser tourists) to explore more around the fort.
Other Notable Food Mentions
Sadly I didn’t get to eat haleem this entire trip – I was told it is more commonly available during Ramzan. Heartbroken, I decided to drown my sorrows in a bowlful of Khubani ka meetha with ice cream. This dessert made out of dried apricots is native to Hyderabad, is extremely rich but delicious. Another food favourite were the Patthar ke Kabab – lamb kababs, slow cooked and tenderized on a slab of granite stone. I close my eyes and can still taste the smokey, pepper flavour of the meat. Highly recommended!
Here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year. May 2016 bring you lots of happiness, success, and tons of food and travel. In case I missed seeing or eating anything noteworthy during my Hyderabad trip, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to try them out the next time I am in the city.