Hyderabad’s love for food needs no excuse
“While I have grown up far away from my hometown in India, my talented mother has rekindled the soul of Hyderabadi Ramadan cooking for us in our home in Dubai. I would step through our apartment door after school, childishly hungry after a half-day of fasting, and be whacked in the face by the tantalizing aroma of fried crunchy onions battered in nutty chickpea flour (pakodas, recipe on this link), sweet lentil patties immersed in cool yogurt gravy (dahi wada), plump parcels of minced meat deep-fried to a crisp (samosas and lukmi), creamy wheat and meat porridge laced with warm ghee, Indian masalas and slivers of ginger (haleem, recipe on this link) or one of the many other stomach-tugging dishes she would prepare for the Holy Month.”
As I chatted with the lovely Arva Ahmed – who is a UAE Food blogger at “I Live In A Frying Pan” and our favourite local food tour conductor, owner of the first and best food tour company in the UAE “Frying Pan Adventures” – about Ramadan in India, specifically Hyderabad where she is from, I had come to learn that the Hyderabadis love food. “Hyderabadis’ love for food is well-known!” she says and explains to me that over there, people will not hesitate to cook up any of their specialities during festivities and other times of the year as well. Be it a wedding, a party or even if guests drop by for dinner, it seems that the Hyderabadis love to indulge and they don’t even need an excuse! “The only difference during Ramadan is that they have 29 or 30 consecutive days of festive eating, with a fanatical devotion to Haleem (recipe on this link) as the key dish that makes a Hyderabadi iftar table complete.” says Arva.
I still needed some specifics, so I asked her “what are the most famous Hyderabadi Ramadan foods?”. You can sense the Hyderabadi enthusiasm of which Arva speaks simply by the extensive list of foods that she described as most famously associated with Ramadan over there. Some of these dishes are:
- Channa Dal – Split black chickpeas cooked until they are ‘al dente,’ and tossed with raw onions and spices.
- Pakodas – Pakodas refers to any kind of vegetable – onion slices, spinach leaves, potatoes – coated in a spiced gram flour batter and deep-fried until golden brown. Arva’s favourite kind are the sesame and tamarind stuffed chili pakodas her mum makes. (recipe on this link)
- Dahi Wada – Lentil fritters soaked until plump in a refreshing yogurt sauce that has been tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves. These are often drizzled with sweet tamarind chutney -“a combination made in culinary heaven” says Arva.
- Haleem – One of Hyderabad’s all-time favourite foods! This is a wheat, meat and lentil porridge that is painstakingly cooked over many hours, until the meat
completely melts down to a thick mash. The right way to serve it is laced with ghee (clarified butter), crunchy strips of raw ginger and fresh coriander leaves. (find Arva’s Mum’s recipe on this link)
- Lukmi – A rectangle-shaped minced meat turnover that is soft and chewy on the outside, and comfortingly meaty on the inside. “Lukmi wins the savory fritter race over the more popularly available samosas any day.”
- Sweet milk with dried fruits – Sweetened milk beverage with dried fruits (finely chopped cashews, almonds and pistachios) stirred in.
I had originally thought that a lot of prep must take place in the Hyderabadi Kitchen prior to Ramadan. But I was surprised to know that most the of the preparations do take place on daily basis during the month as opposed to being prepared in advance. “Other than a stack of freshly-chopped nuts that would be immersed into a pitcher of cool sweet milk to break the fast every day, or the samosas and lukmi which could be wrapped, sealed and frozen weeks beforehand, there really wasn’t much preparation that would begin prior to Ramadan. Mamma would create a fresh set of magical dishes in her kitchen every day.” explains Arva
I then asked her: How do the Fasting traditionally break their Fast in Hyderabad? to which she replied: “At home – though I won’t pretend to be the cook, mum still owns the kitchen and its secrets!” She went on explaining that the spirit of Ramadan is in breaking the fast at home together with the family, with foods that have been lovingly prepared in your home kitchen. She said: “Families cook at home, and either entertain guests in their home or send treats around to neighbouring families. There is a real spirit of togetherness and eating at home with the family, whereas with restaurant cuisine, you would lose those tummy-tingling smells that waft about your home in the last hours before Iftar, making your entire stomach feel like a hollow cave that’s about to collapse! There is a delight and a sense of bonding in waiting out those final moments before you break your fast as a family together, and no matter how much I love dining out, you just can’t bring that experience alive in the same way at a restaurant.”
As for the choice of cuisine, Arva says she is always open to experimenting with the traditional foods of other Ramadan-practicing communities around the world. For instance, she was happy to discover Arabic Atayef (deep-fried baby pancakes stuffed with clotted cream, cheese or nuts and dipped in sugar syrup) or the Iranian ash-e-reshteh (hearty soup made of beans, lentils and noodles) and their version of haleem. “I try to stick to food that teaches me something about the spirit or culture of the month. Pizza, sushi, burgers, etc. – no matter how dearly I love any of them – are all ruled out.” she said.
I then asked her if there are any Hyderabadi/Indian breaking fast traditions that made it through the generations and still exist today and she said: “We stay true to the Prophet (PBUH)’s tradition – dates and water, or sometimes, dates with dried fruit milk. Thankfully, this is one tradition that has never changed, and I doubt it ever will. Never may we see the day when people start breaking their fast with soda!”
As for Suhour, traditionally, Hyderabadis would eat a heavy sohoor meal comprising khichdi (rice cooked with lentils, image below right), keema (minced meat, image below centre), eggs and paratha (layered Indian flatbread made of wheat, image below left).
Arva continued: “We have opted out of this regime in Dubai and kept things a bit more simple and healthy with whole grain cereals, milk and sometimes treats that have been leftover from our iftar meal the evening before. Given the move towards healthier foods in our home, we try to reserve deep-fried foods for only a few indulgent days of Ramadan. While extremely appetizing, traditionally Hyderabadi food can admittedly be quite calorie-laden and the fried/meat-heavy dishes might dehydrate the body more than replenishing it with essential fluids. More recently, we try to keep our iftars light and healthy with dishes like sautéed spiced corn and mint chutney sandwiches. Not as exotic, but nevertheless nutritious and filling!”
A Sample Menu of a Traditional Hyderabadi Iftar
Tamarind and Sesame-Stuffed Chilli Pakodas
Haleem, served with a side of chopped ginger, coriander leaves and ghee
Qubani Ka Meetha (slow-stewed apricot compote)
Jalebi (derived from the Arabic Zalabia)
Meet Arva Ahmed (AKA The Frying Pan)
Most people know this amazingly witty, super funny, and all round sweet lady as the ‘Frying Pan’ but her real name is Arva Ahmed. She is the lady who uniquely saw beyond Dubai’s Glitz & Glamour and gave people the opportunity, through her “Frying Pan Adventures“, to discover Dubai’s hidden restaurant gems (the city’s authentic food scene).
Over the past years, Arva also indulged her love for food through her blog “I Live in a Frying Pan“, as well as through her various assignments for well-respected publications including NYC-based Serious Eats, Abu Dhabi-based The National, Dubai-based Alpha (Gulf News) and India-based The Live Mint. Then along with one of her food blogger friends, Arva also co-founded Fooderati Arabia – the UAE’s first community of food bloggers.
Arva describes herself as: “I am the girl possessed with a terribly curious, actively chomping mouth that loves to sniff out hidden restaurant gems across Old Dubai. With a family history rooted in Hyderabad and Burhanpur, two major Muslim centres of India; with a childhood in Dubai; and then close to a decade in cosmopolitan cities like Philadelphia and New York, I have grown to passionately love the cultural diversity that manifests itself through the delicious medium of food. My love for the unassuming ethnic treats in the forgotten parts of this glamorously-marketed city has led me to start a food-tourism company called Frying Pan Adventures – Dubai’s first ever food tours. My dream is to revive the city’s old charm by weaving ethnic foods and the stories behind them into unique gastronomic experiences for visitors and residents alike.”
Hope you have enjoyed getting to know about Ramadan in India, the Hyderabadis love for food and a little bit more about their cuisine.
The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end – all out there for us to explore…