Vijay Marur is an Advertising Professional who specialises in producing Corporate Films and is a Digital Marketing Expert. A television show host, a published author and a poet, he is an avid foodie and has written extensively about the different kinds of food available in Hyderabad. In an exclusive column for RITZ, he dives right into the melting pot of Telangana cuisine.
Once upon a time, there was a state called Andhra Pradesh. It was an amalgam of three areas, Telangana, Andhra and Rayalaseema.
In the half century and more of common statehood the food of the Andhra region became synonymous with the state. Fortunately the state was bifurcated and Telangana, having got its fair share of land and revenue, is now poised to gain some recognition for its unique cuisine.
The taste of Telangana is driven by the people of the state. The state has always had royalty, both by way of the Muslim rulers and the Hindu zamindars. And the common man has been an integral part of its history.
The clear distinction between rulers and people has led to a situation where the food of the state has had to choose between appealing to the more extravagant palates of the rich and the more modest tastes of the common man. Too, the deciding factors that shaped the cuisine of Telangana are the crop patterns in the region.
As against the rice bowl wealth of Andhra, Telangana has always been more of a millet and roti kind of a place. Jowar and bajra feature prominently in the harvests of the state. So Jonna Rotte (bread made from sorghum), Sajja Rotte (bread made from penisetum) and in rare cases, Uppudu Pindi (broken rice) are the lead components in a meal.
The Telangana palate is hungry for spice and the dishes are ‘hot’. Whether it is the raw and basic Yerra Kaaram Podi (spicy red powder) or Yellipai Kaaram (spicy garlic powder) or a host of kooras (curries), pulusus (gravies) and vepudus (fries), the table is always set for a fiery encounter.
But painting Telangana cuisine with a spicy brush is not fair.
Let’s take a look at a few Telangana households and see what is typically served by these people.
Mrs. Suguna Narsinga Rao, a native of Nalgonda had this to say when asked about deciding on a simple menu for a guest who was keen on sampling Telangana fare. “The highlight of what I’d like to serve is that I prefer the Dosakayas (cucumbers) from Choutuppal (a small town outside Hyderabad). Once I have them, I make Dosakaya Pappu. The taste is divine. Then I make a good, thick Pappu Chaaru. I like to serve Stuffed Vankayas (brinjals) and I think chutney made from Beerakaya (ridge gourd) is pretty awesome.
For curries I can choose between Chuukakoora (red sorrel) or Pudina (mint) leaves and make something light and healthy.
It is custom also to serve bajjis – fritters. These can be made from brinjals or potatoes. Of course, we serve the famous Puli Hora. And sometimes some curd rice as well, especially with papads and challa mirapakayas. Dessert usually is Rava Kesari.”
Now see the difference when we spoke to Sabahat Ali, a long time resident of Hyderabad and a connoisseur of food.
We discovered that while there was a rich side to Hyderabadi cuisine with its Biryanis and Nalli Gosht, Marag and so on, there was a wholesomeness that crept in when a Hyderabadi decides to keep it simple.
“Maybe I’ll start my guest with some hot Chapattis and Chicken Khorma. The Khorma has to have a particular texture that makes it not too liquidy and not too solid either. The granularity is often the benchmark with Khormas. Then you have the classic Tamatar ka Cutt. Throw in some succulent Shaami Kababs and you’re good to go.
When it comes to the rice item, there’s nothing that can beat a Yakhni Pulao. Or even a Hara Boot Pulao. And to end it all on a sweet note, a serving or two of Phirnee.”
But talk to a caterer who specializes in serving multi-course dinners to wedding guests and his menu may be entirely different and richer in variety as well as in texture.
For example, you may be invited to start with Soups and Salads where the salad is green and the soup is Marag. Lukhmis, Haleem, Reshmi Kababs and a serving or two of Tali Hui Machchi could set the tone for the rest of the evening as delicious appetisers.
The main course would take you through a journey that stops at Lagan ka Murgh or Dum ka Murgh and takes you on to a typical Gosht ki Biryani.
You would also be offered a bread of sorts, a Sheermal perhaps. With Dahi ki Chutney and the all time favourite Mirchi ka Saalan.
For dessert they may not compromise. Double ka meetha, also known as Shahi Tukda is usually served.
What is obvious is that there is a huge Mughlai influence on the cuisine of Hyderabad, and by virtue of its popularity, on the cuisine of Telangana.
And it is interesting to note that the influence has not restricted itself to food alone. The typical Telangana man, or woman, is extremely polite and speaks strictly within the domains of protocol. The pace of life too has been dictated by a comfort loving, laid back, ‘Where’s the urgency?’ kind of attitude.
While this has meant that a ‘kal’ can mean anything in the future or in the distant past, and parson is the word that almost means eternity, the people by and large are loveable and extremely affable.
There is of course a wild side to the region. Wild boar, deer meat (Venison), Teethar and Bateyr (Quail and Partridge) are all delicacies. They are rare nowadays but you do get to try them sometimes. Like rabbit meat which used to be illegal, but is not now.
Vasanta, a Telangana village girl, now a Hyderabad housewife, remembers how they would make a special chicken curry (mildly spiced) and a mutton curry (spicy) in their village. Ulavacharu would be served and then there would be Semiya (Vermicelli) Payasam.
The two other dishes she remembers fondly are Jonna Sankati which is called Ghatka and had with Yellipaya Kaaram or mango pickle, and Sarva Pindi which is truly a Telangana flag bearer in the cuisine world.
Pickles too can be different from the Andhra varieties. “Here in Telangana, we make pickles without oil and with a generous use of mustard,” Suguna adds.
The cuisine of Telangana has been underplayed for decades. It is however a treasure chest waiting to be explored.
Sit down. Relax. Take a bowl of Vepudu Biyyam (puffed rice with a twist) that has been tempered with onions and a tadaka. And the world will stop and stare at you with envy…just before it says Jai Telangana.