Dubai: Ramadan for me is synonymous with Hyderabadi haleem and sheer kurma (a vermicelli sweet). That’s because I hail from Hyderabad, the capital city of the South Indian state of Telangana.
I must admit, though, I wasn’t a haleem fan from my childhood days. I was a bit apprehensive about this delicacy and thought perhaps it was made of the meat prohibited in my religion.
I used to see people milling around eateries serving haleem after sunset during Ramzan (as Ramadan is called in the Indian subcontinent) and I was not once tempted to try it out nor bothered to know what went into those huge cauldrons to prepare the gooey concoction.
My tryst with haleem began much later, after a restaurant opened right next to our newspaper office in Secunderabad just before the Muslim holy month began. A former colleague and I — who had our ‘chai’ at that restaurant regularly — saw people of all faiths devouring haleem every evening and mustered the courage to try ‘just one’ after having found out that it’s made of lamb or goat (Hyderabadis prefer the latter).
Believe me, it was so delicious we weren’t satisfied with just one bowl. And this continued until the end of the fasting month and left us craving until next year. But times have changed and today haleem is sold in some restaurants all round the year.
My love for haleem set me on exploring all other places that served this delicacy. Hyderabad now has several restaurants and hotels serving this signature dish. Pista House, Paradise Restaurant, Bawarchi, Shadab, Nayaab, Sarvi, Shah Ghouse and Chicha’s are some of the most famous ones for Hyderabadi haleem.
Perhaps, most people flying back to UAE from Hyderabad International Airport wouldn’t miss the last chance to grab a bowl of Pista House haleem in the boarding area.
Equally tantalising Hyderabadi haleem is available in several restaurants in the UAE. Morning Star Restaurant, one of the oldest of its kind in Sharjah, Silver Spoon Restaurant, also in Sharjah; Tayyeb Restaurant, Haddad Hyderabad, Biryaniwala and Shahran in Dubai are a few places where this amazing dish is made meticulously. Some of these restaurants, too, serve this dish on the weekends and other occasions.
So what is haleem?
It’s a nutritious delicacy made of whole wheat, lamb or goat meat, pure ghee, aromatic spices and condiments cooked for 8 to 12 hours in giant cauldrons. This softened meat is pounded with giant wooden millets. This process is known as ‘gota maarna’ until the spice-infused haleem becomes paste-like with meat and soft bones homogenised. This unctuous dish is served garnished with heated ghee, fried cashew and almonds, crispy fried onion, chopped coriander and a lemon wedge.
What is the origin of haleem?
Culinary historians of Hyderabad trace its origin to the Middle East. The Arabian and Yemeni soldiers of the Nizams (rulers of erstwhile Hyderabad state), who were stationed at Barkas (barracks) in the Old City, made something similar but with bigger pieces of meat. The closest variation is harees that we get here in the Gulf and Middle East. While harees is usually savoured with roti or naan (a leavened, oven-baked flatbread), haleem is a wholesome meal in itself.